Honourable Mahen Seeruttun, Minister of Financial Services and Good Governance
Members of the ministry of Financial Services and Good Governance, in particular the Permanent Secretary Mr Parmesar and the Director Mrs Sahye
Distinguished participants from Africa and beyond
Members of the private sector and from the civil society
Dear experts from our technical AML/CFT Global Facility
Good morning every one,
It is a pleasure for me to be here today for this Workshop that marks, somehow, the end of a very special year in the partnership between Mauritius and the European Union to fight money laundering and terrorism financing.
As it often happens for successful and long-lasting partnerships, this one had started in a somewhat turbulent way, more or less one and half year ago, after the European Union placed Mauritius on the EU list of high risk third countries for Anti Money Laundering as a result of an earlier decision made in February by the FATF.
We all know that those were not easy moment for the country, which did coincide with the early months of the Covid-19 crisis that hit hard the Mauritian economy.
But those were not easy moments for me and for the EU Embassy either.
Minister Seeruttun will surely remember those days, because at that time we had to meet very often, sometimes almost daily. We had a number of meetings at the highest level, including with the Prime Minister, and as EU we immediately offered to step up our assistance to the Government to help Mauritius win this battle. I think it is important to underline that the EU was on the side of Mauritius even before DAY ZERO.
In fact, the AML Global Facility had already been mobilised at the autumn of 2019 and that we had immediately reacted to the request of the authorities received in December of that year.
Unfortunately, it was not enough to avoid the listing of FATF, but it was certainly prompt and efficient as it allowed to react immediately and to provide first class technical assistance, as shown by the recent excellent results achieved.
After the EU listing, we did our best to inform the private sector about the actual implications of the list and the path to follow to get out of it. I remember we organised an open videoconference with the Mauritius Banking Association and the Franco Mauricienne Chamber of Commerce. It was done to inform investors on the consequences of the listing. I have to admit that it was not an easy exercise. In a matter of few weeks, we all had to become specialists using complicated acronyms such as DFNBP, B.O., CFT, STR and so on. Sincerely, if we were able to become so much acquainted in this field, it was also thanks to the people who are here today and who organised this impressive gathering: the EU AML CFT Global Facility team.
However, let me first take this opportunity here to congratulate wholeheartedly Minister Seeruttun, and the whole government, the civil servants (including those who preceded them) and public sector of Mauritius, that put its full engagement, thrust and commitment to address each and every recommendation received from the FATF. They have repeatedly expressed their wish to go even further, to address all recommendations under the ESAAMLG report and to improve the scores in all their immediate outcomes, thus to become a role model for many countries worldwide. I can only felicitate this attitude and I think this is among the reasons why I see people from other countries joining here today. I know that M David Hotte and his team have plans to use your expertise as peer support to other countries, (such as Jordan and Panama) and to make sure your experience can benefit many other Countries that face similar difficulties and that are serious about finding a sustainable exit strategy.
However, I think it is also very important that the people who contributed to this impressive achievement maintain the current momentum for reform, to make these achievements sustainable and far-reaching, building on the very relevant tools that were developed with the help of the international donor community and continuing their capacity building to be able to reach concrete results.
For instance, if we refer to the NPOs, that is at the centre of today’s workshop , the Registrar of Associations has been reinforced, the capacity of oversight and monitoring of the sector have been enhanced, but we know that among the very many good and laborious NGOs active in Mauritius, there are many whose activities are unclear or even rather mysterious. What is their role in the society? How can we ensure that they are not empty shells for paying lower taxes or even to launder money? I think the workshop will help you replying these and other very important questions and will provide you even more good tools on how to address this kind of issues.
Let me finally stress that the EU support is not fully over. The EU AML Global Facility has already promised to provide another round of support on Beneficial Ownership and to assist the MRA and customs further.
We also believe that an increased number of collaborations among different authorities and of cross-functional activities among different stakeholders of the financial intelligence and penal chain (including abroad) will allow achieving clear results.
To support this kind of initiatives, the EU Delegation is ready to play its role, and I have insisted with my Headquarter in Brussels to include AML among the indicative priorities of the Multiannual Indicative Programme for Mauritius for 2021-2027. This means that when additional requests will come from the government, we will be able to evaluate them and to deploy quality support, geared towards concrete achievements.
This will allow constructing a sustainable resilience to Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing in the Country, allowing Mauritius to regain its reputation and role as a Financial hub and an investment platform for the Africa, Asia and the Rest of the World.
In concluding just a few lessons learned that I take away from the last two years:
1 Remain on alert and react swiftly on all regional and global or peer alert mechanism such as the ESAAMLG report.
2 Monitor carefully the national situation and ensure prompt and thorough reaction on existing and new requirements that will come from the G20, the OECD or the EU itself; these will not diminish after this Covid crisis that has heavily impacted public budgets; in this context the zero tolerance approach against financial crimes can only increase.
3 Demonstrate the efficiency of the new institutional and legal frame; of course through the new financial crimes court (who already inherited of some 100 ongoing cases); but also via a strong and swift follow up of STRs. It is important for example for those sending STRs that they know that the system will react, that they will not just loose a potential dubious client, but that a competitor will not “hook” a new doubtful client.
4 Reflect constantly on the weak points, notably on fragile sectors such as DNFPB that are maybe more difficult to track and to regulate.
5 Finally maintain a proactive dialogue with international partners, not just now to exit the FATF or EU list, but to demonstrate constant progress in developing together a more efficient and transparent financial international system.
A very last remark on the timing of the exit from the EU list; I can assure you Minister that I have been a strong supporter of a very rapid decision since we have no additional benchmark and since our British colleagues have shown the way forward. But I have since 8 days a very personal additional motivation: my bank in Belgium where I have my accounts for 25 years suddenly and without early notice decided to block my accounts last Sunday; some “stupid” algorithm had probably noted that I was regularly transferring money to my account here in Mauritius for me to make a leaving. So I was for 48h the direct victim of the famous “enhanced due diligence”. Unfortunately, this is not the first time it happened to me: I was previously posted in the Caribbean’s and the same “bad experience” already happened there four years ago!
I certainly do not want to live this again and I am more than ready to discuss with you Minister on the best way to get this issue behind us as soon as possible!
Thank you for your attention.