Opposition Leader Julian Fraser has strongly rejected provisions in the Customs Management and Duties (Amendment) Act, 2023 which require that the Virgin Islands cooperate with foreign law enforcement bodies.
In order to bring the legislation in compliance with new financial services regulations, a section of the revised legislation was amended to include ‘cooperation with law enforcement agencies, competent authorities, and foreign law enforcement agencies’ and Fraser argued that he was troubled by this.
The veteran politician said local residents will now be sitting ducks once the amended law has been passed. “The minute our people hear about this, cooperation with foreign law enforcement agencies, red flags should go up. What are we?” Fraser asked.
He said he had a problem with the BVI’s Customs Comptroller being asked to cooperate with a foreign law enforcement agency and suggested it was a dictation coming from one of the US alphabet agencies such as the CIA or FBI for instance. “I bet our customs officer, our comptroller can’t call on one of them to cooperate with him,” he contended.
Fraser further argued that such new laws help to facilitate extraditions by foreign countries. “By the time they come here talking about they’re gonna extradite someone, they’ve already gotten everything they needed from our own agencies,” Fraser stated.
He added: “This is the law. We’re gonna pass this law in a few minutes and the Comptroller of Customs has no choice but to cooperate. Where is our independence?”
According to Fraser, such legislation needs pushback from the people, similar to that received with the recent Police Act that was brought to the House through the governor.
The game we’re in
Meanwhile, Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley, in sharing the provisions of the legislation, pointed out earlier that the Virgin Islands
is a member of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and is therefore subject to evaluation by that body against its international standards on combating money laundering and financing of terrorism and proliferation.
He said this was being done with a methodology for assessing technical compliance and CFATF recommendations on the effectiveness of AML CFT systems. The premier noted that, as a precursor to that evaluation, the National Risk Assessment made several recommendations for legislative reform to achieve technical compliance with the recommendation.
“So, we can keep our sovereignty and autonomy and refuse to cooperate internationally and watch the financial services die. We can choose that if we like, the other countries will be happy to take our business,” Premier Wheatley argued.
“We’ve seen lots of benefits from the financial services industry. It requires for us to sign on to the fight against illicit finance, financial crime across the world,” he stated. “We know what it means to have to meet international standards because we are constantly having to do it. I know sometimes it doesn’t feel good, but this is the game we’re in.”
Premier Wheatley reminded House members that the amended law is in line with international obligations which all member countries have signed on to. All over the globe, he said, member countries are required to cooperate in the battle against financial crime, money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing.
According to the Premier, the implications of not passing the new law meant a negative evaluation, and in turn, a blow to the financial services industry which contributes more than 60 per cent of the territory’s budget.