Tuesday, 24 January 2023 15:21

Govt warns of tougher penalties for white collar crime

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For those persons who work in the financial services sector who are minded to defraud customers/investors of their hard-earned money, there is a clear warning from Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke that tougher penalties are coming.

Clarke gave the warning Monday during a special policy address on the regulation of the financial sector against the backdrop of the unfolding multi-billion dollar fraud at the investment firm, Stocks and Securities Limited.

The minister argued that it was time to level the playing field so that people are no longer of the view that those found guilty of white-collar crimes continue to be viewed as getting away with a mere slap on the wrist while others face more punitive punishment for lesser offences.

To effect the change, the Administration will move to amend strategic legislation to combat the problem Clarke said.

“(In order) to take the Jamaican financial sector to the next level, the Government of Jamaica will review the penalty regimes in the Securities Act, the Banking Act, the Insurance Act and the Pensions Act. We will stiffen the penalties for white-collar crimes in the financial sector,” said Clarke.

He added that: “The discrepancy between sanctions for white-collar crime and other forms of crime must be erased. If you rob depositors, or you defraud investors and you put our financial system and our way of life at risk, the Jamaican society wants you put away for a long time; a long, long, time.”

Clarke said the government will also require securities dealers to publish their financial statements and material events at standards equivalent to public companies on the Jamaica Stock Exchange.

Additionally, the government is moving to tighten regulations around connected party transactions for dealers in the securities business.

“The government will introduce a fixed penalty regime where companies can be fined for AML (anti-money laundering), CFT (combatting the financing of terrorism), and other breaches. And if they don’t pay they go to court," said Clarke. He noted that under the current regime, the authorities have to take companies through the court process and only then can the fines be imposed.

Clarkes said the change will improve the sanctions regime and the speed with which sanctions can be applied. He said the length of time between when an act is allegedly committed and when a sanction is delivered will be severely shortened with a fixed penalty regime.

The finance minister said the Administration will also move to tighten regulations around insider trading and ensure that the penalty and sanctions regime is "severe and dissuasive".

As it moves to get tougher on fraudsters, Clarke said the government will be seeking the assistance of its international partners in the design of these reforms “and in advising us of additional reforms that may be necessary”.