De-Mystifying the High-Risk Territory

Compliance monkeyThere is much talk these days regarding the difficulty of providing products and services to those persons who are in high risk territories.  The main gripe is that the Guernsey Regulatory Framework is stifling and strangulating licensees when it comes to high risk territories. This seems to be at odds with the presentations and assertions of the Commission about Guernsey being open for business and empowering its licensees to engage in risk to develop and grow.  What is the truth, are we being misinformed and if so by who?

When it comes to high risk territories licensees must be aware of the obligations in the Criminal Justice (Proceeds of Crime) (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Regulations, 2007 as amended (“the Regulations”) and the Handbook for Financial Services Businesses on countering Financial Crime and Terrorist Financing (“the Handbook”).  Regulation 5 (1) (c) states the following;

“(c) a business relationship or an occasional transaction – (i) where the customer is established or situated in a country or territory that does not apply or insufficiently applies the Financial Action Task Force Recommendations on Money Laundering, or (ii) which the financial services business considers to be a high risk relationship, taking into account any notices,”

The Handbook goes further at rule 58 where it states the following;

“is connected to any of the countries or territories listed in Part A or Part C of Instructions on Business from Sensitive Sources issued by the Commission; is designated as high risk.”

At first glance the minimum requirements are that by applying the full instructions on Business from Sensitive Sources you would have a lists of high risk jurisdictions that the Commission would be happy with in meeting the requirements of the Regulation and the Handbook. The Commission have empowered Financial Services Businesses in Guernsey to actively engage and establish their own risk appetite and as such the Instructions on Business from Sensitive resources only represents the minimum requirements.  The Handbook at section 70 goes further to recommend that a high risk factor regarding territory would also include the following;

“customers based in, or conducting business in or through, a country or territory with known higher levels of bribery and corruption, or organised crime, or involved in illegal drug production/processing/distribution, or associated with terrorism; involvement of an introducer from a country or territory which does not have an adequate AML/CFT infrastructure;”

Just by looking at Transparency International perception index this allows the potential for a greater number of territories that could be designated as high risk. There are also those territories that Guernsey has Sanction regimes on which pose an association with terrorism and as such could be deemed high risk. The question is must these territories be high risk?

The Commission have through rule 57 empowered Directors and Boards to take a proactive view of risk where a business relationship has a high risk element (that is not a high risk element specified in Regulation 5(1)(a-c) or listed at part A or Part C of the Instruction on Business from Sensitive Sources) but this element does not mean that the actual risk of the relationship is high.  A Financial Service Business where it has compelling mitigating factors that it documents, can choose a lower and more realistic risk rating. Therefore, a territory that the Financial Services Business may class as high due to internal policy or procedure or that an international body classifies as high does not necessarily make the whole relationship high risk.

Some examples of where and how rule 57 can be applied;

  • An entity that is administer and controlled in Guernsey is conducting business in a territory that is not on the Business from Sensitive Sources Instruction but has a high bribery and corruption rating, there are controls in place to mitigate associated risk of bribery and corruption risk do we have to have this as high risk? If the licensee can demonstrate compelling mitigating factors to meet rule 57 of the Handbook, it could choose to down grade the risk if its policy procedures and controls allow.

 

  • An entity that we administer and control is conducting business in a territory that is on the Business from Sensitive Sources, there are controls in place to mitigate associated risk do we have to have this as high risk? This must be rated as high risk as it falls under the Regulations and the Handbook as having to be rated as high risk.

 

  • A Beneficiary resides in a Sanctioned country which the Financial Services Business deems as high risk, do they need to be classified as such? If the licensee can demonstrate that the beneficiary and the entity that will be receiving any transaction is not subject to a Sanction notice and demonstrates the compelling mitigating factors to meet rule 57 of the Handbook, it could choose to down grade the risk if its policy procedures and controls allows.

 

  • A customer born in a higher risk country due to bribery and corruption but residing and employed in Guernsey and all funds for the business relationship have been earnt in Guernsey do they have to be high risk? Though a Licensee must obtain information on Place of Birth and Nationality under the rule 86 of the Handbook there is no requirement to risk rate on this basis and it could be discriminatory.

 

  • There are also occasions where part of a structure or an entity is registered in a higher risk jurisdiction, such as a Panamanian foundation that is controlled and administered in Guernsey. The question that must be asked is does a brass plaque in a higher risk country create a higher risk? Regarding the Regulation and the Handbook the Panamanian Foundation could be said to be based in Guernsey due to the management and control element and as such would not fall under a higher risk country element as the due diligence requirements would be undertaken by the Guernsey Fiduciary to the requirements of the Handbook and the Regulation.

 

  • The use of corporate entities registered in other higher risk jurisdictions by a Guernsey licensee for its customers, the Corporate Service Provider in the higher risk territory is only the Registered Agent for corporate entities and only undertakes the required statutory functions of the Territory are these structures require to be high risk? Though higher risk jurisdictions can be used to provide a corporate entity they may not apply the same anti-money laundering measures and countering terrorist financing measures as we are required to do in Guernsey. In these cases, it could be said that the business relationship is based and established in Guernsey as the corporate entity is controlled and administered by a Guernsey Licensee who must comply the Guernsey Regulatory Framework requirements.  Does a brass plaque really carry a risk or money laundering and terrorist financing or should we be more worried about the risk of the beneficial owners and controllers?

From this brief review of the pertinent sections of the Regulations and the Handbook, the Commission have in fact created a framework when it comes to territory that does allow for consideration of risk and not everything is or should be classified as high though some must be.  Unfortunately, it is possible that licensees themselves, through either lack of knowledge, understanding or misinterpretation of the Regulation and Handbook are creating their own frameworks that are inflexible to allow compelling mitigation to be taken in to account when it comes to risking Territory risk where permissible.  This inflexable framework would contribute to the strangulation of a Financial Services Business and the potential offering of products and services to new markets and developing countries.

Remember the Commission are there to use enforcement action on those who fall below minimum requirements and/or do not apply their own policies and procedures. There are countless other examples where rule 57 of the Handbook can be utilised so please contact me if you are interested in further clarification.Compliance monkey

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