The Financial Investigation Agency is an autonomous law enforcement agency, generally responsible for the investigation of white-collar and other serious financial crimes taking place within or from within the Territory, including money laundering offences.
The establishment of the Agency is in accordance with current international trends aimed at combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial and financial-related crimes as well as ensuring international cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of such crimes.
According to Mr George, the strengths of the FIA are many and that its Board consists of high-level civil servants rather than political appointees, which protects it from political interference.
He said this governance structure also gives the Director a high degree of independence where the day-to-day management of the FIA is concerned.
“Officers of the FIA are hardworking and honest individuals with a very high degree of integrity who want to do their part in tackling financial crime in the Territory. To date, there is no evidence to suggest that any of its officers engage in or have engaged in corrupt practices. The majority of the FIA staff are highly skilled and perform their individual duties at a high level,” Mr George said in his June 30, 2021 position statement to the CoI.
On the flip side, the Director said lack of funding to the FIA is a hurdle.
“Another challenge faced by law enforcement agencies is that of funding. Most, if not all, law enforcement agencies in the Territory of the Virgin Islands, including the FIA are underfunded. For example, for the financial year 2016, the FIA requested $2,062,500.00 but was allocated only $1,662,500.00. For the financial year 2017, the FIA requested $2,400,000.00 but was allocated only $1,472,500.00, which was expected given the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. For the financial year 2018, $2,400,000.00 was requested but was only allocated $1,672,000.00. For the financial year 2019, $2,400,000.00 was requested but was only allocated $1,672,000.00. For financial year 2020, $2,400,000.00 was requested but received $1,672,800.00. Lastly, for the financial year 2021, $2,172,800.00 was requested but was only allocated $1,672,800.00.”
Director George said the funding the FIA currently receives is considered inadequate as it prevents it from providing the type of specialist training necessary for its employees to enable them to carry out their duties effectively.
“It also prevents the FIA from investing in the type of resources such as IT equipment, analysis and investigative tools necessary to be able to carry out its functions in order to make it more effective as a Financial Intelligence Unit. The FIA plays a crucial role where the investigation of financial crime, both locally and internationally, is concerned. Without adequate funding, the FIA will be unable to completely fulfil its mandate. This is even more important as the Territory is due to be assessed against the international standards of the Financial Action Task Force during the upcoming year, 2022.”
He also stated that the inability to compete with the private sector regarding salary packages is also a challenge/weakness, adding that “the FIA occasionally loses some of its highly skilled staff to local firms involved in the financial services industry due to the pay gap that exists between the FIA and these private sector entities.”
He mentioned other weaknesses, such as gaps in the current legislation that governs the agency, but steps are being taken to address them with the strengthening of the legislation.
The other area of weakness stemmed from domestic cooperation between local law enforcement agencies, he said.
“For example, some law enforcement agencies take an unreasonable amount of time to respond to FIA requests for pertinent information to assist the FIA in carrying out its functions, particularly as it relates to STRs. There is also some level of distrust where access to sensitive information is concerned. Specifically, sensitive information pertaining to individuals suspected of being involved in financial crimes including domestic money laundering.”
Meanwhile, the FIA’s role also encompasses the processing of requests for legal assistance from authorities in foreign jurisdictions as well as acting as the receiver of all disclosures of information which are required to be made pursuant to the relevant financial services legislation.