09.10.2018 at 20:52
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Estate Agents Spared In Money Laundering Crackdown

New, more restrictive laws will not be implemented for agents this year.

In the works since 2006, the second or "tranche 2" phase of new money laundering laws is not going to affect real estate agents.

The international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issued a report 3 years ago that was highly critical of government for not doing enough to deal with money laundering problems created by foreign investors.

Just last June, for example, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and the CEO of AUSTRAC, Nicole Rose, announced that they had reached a $700 million settlement with the CBA over money laundering.

The government had intended to implement the laws by the end of this year, but accountants, lawyers, and estate agents were given a pass.

Instead, the Department of Home Affairs said they will be rolling out a slower transition, in what they are calling "phase 1.5".

A bill is being prepared that will amend the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act of 2006 (AML/CTF Act).

The amendments are expected to include changes to "tipping off" rules and other provisions surrounding secrecy and sharing of information between the government and the private sector.

It will also simplify reporting requirements for money moving across the border.

But it will not cover the three professions mentioned above. Real estate agents will get a break for probably another year.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Group on Bribery in International Business warned government again last year that Australia needs to take strong measures to fix the money laundering issue, and a 2016 review of existing money-laundering laws identified 84 areas where improvement is needed.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) estimates that money laundering costs Australia $36 billion a year.

The most common professions exploited by "hot money" launderers are accountants, customs brokers, financial and tax advisers, lawyers, migration agents, real estate agents, and stockbrokers.

Laws are likely to cover most of those professions, but lawyers, accountants, and estate agents will be exceptions. For now.

New Zealand passed new laws last year to address the money laundering issue. Nathan Lynch, Reuters financial crime analyst, said Australia is still exposed and vulnerable.

"New Zealand took evasive action last year to close down these loopholes. They've now regulated lawyers and accountants. Real estate agents will come on board by the end of the year. They went from lagging well behind Australia to leading the way.

"The unregulated nature of Australian real estate has made it extremely attractive to park criminal funds."

It should be no great surprise that most of the hot money comes into Australia via China.

In New Zealand, a home buyer can no longer just walk into a home inspection with a suitcase full of cash. They must deposit it in a bank first.

But Ron Pol, an anti-money-laundering consultant in NZ, said simply depositing it in a bank does not mean the money is clean.

"Banks and lawyers often see different red-flag indicators of criminal activity.

"Red flags visible to lawyers are not always seen by banks, and vice versa. [Investigations]  also exposed many instances where criminals compartmentalised knowledge between banks and lawyers, helping mask their activities from both."

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