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New real estate inspectorate to tackle money launderers

Published:Sunday | October 12, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Sandra Watson, general manager of Real Estate Board.-File

Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

Sandra Watson, the general manager of the Real Estate Board (REB), is in the process of setting up an inspectorate to ensure that dealers and others engaged in real estate transactions are not engaged in money laundering or facilitating it.

Jamaica is a signatory to anti-money laundering (AML) treaties, which identify attorneys, real estate dealers, accountants and betting and gaming facilities alongside financial institutions as persons to watch, Watson said.

Jamaica's AML regulations place the onus on dealers to report suspicious activity, with red flags, including clients who fail to provide satisfactory personal information; clients who are agents or intermediaries for mystery persons or entities; and those who have criminal records or are known to be under investigation, the REB head noted.

As advertised, the AML inspectorate will be responsible for monitoring the activities of real estate dealers and salesmen to deter money laundering and terrorism financing via the real estate industry.

Real Estate Board

"The Real Estate Board is the competent authority to ensure that dealers are compliant with the Proceeds of Crime Act," said Watson. "This responsibility came into effect April 1, 2014."

Staff recruitment is underway. The deadline for job applications closed Friday, October 10, with competencies required including expert knowledge of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA), specialised training in AML and combating terrorism financing, knowledge of court procedures, and "excellent knowledge" of the Real Estate (Dealers and Developers) Act.

Watson said under the law, red flags which dealers are expected to look for include clients wishing to make transactions using false names or providing false information; or an intermediary who requests the dealer to act for others who, in turn, avoid contact with the dealer.

Dealers will also be expected to note those who have held or hold public employment or is the relative of a person holding public employment and who "engage in an unusual private transaction," the REB head said.

Watson said the inspectors will view as red flags the transfer of funds into and out of the client's account without requiring the required written notice; the structuring of payments in a transaction to avoid the threshold reporting requirements; and "aborting transactions" in which funds paid into a client account on behalf of one person are then paid out to third parties.

She said real estate dealers and salesmen will also be expected to report purchases completed in a false name; transactions involving a "disproportionate injection of private funding/cash" without explanation; and transaction containing unusual terms, such as a term requiring payment of full price before conclusion of transaction are also suspicious.

other potential alerts

Other potential alerts include instances where attorneys make requests to act for multiple parties without meeting them; funding provided by third parties without legitimate or economic reason; property transferred by back-to-back transactions; using the vehicle of a company or trust or multiple entities to obscure true ownership; funds sent out of jurisdiction without adequate or plausible explanation; third parties who fund client accounts with no adequate or commercial reason; and an unusual level of funds passing in and out of client accounts.

The management of client affairs is also highlighted under the regulations, Watson said, noting that suspicion falls on use of funds sourced from a company or Government for private purposes, without evidence of due authorisation; and where a transaction channels public funds or assets to a privately held account or privately owned company.