2022 continues to be no place to hide for financial criminals anywhere in the world, as the son of a radical Muslim cleric is sent to prison for participating in a money laundering scam; the European Union considers suspending Vanuatu's visa waiver status to minimize money laundering risks presented by the state's 'golden passport' scheme; and Australian regulators broaden the scope of their probe into casino giant’s alleged AML failures.
Find out more on these stories below.
Son of infamous hate speech imam Abu Hamza jailed for money laundering
A Southwark Crown Court judge sentenced Ti-to Ibn-Sheikh, the son of notorious former Finsbury Park Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, to three years and nine months in prison for his role in a money laundering operation worth nearly £350,000.
Mr Ibn-Sheikh’s involvement in the plot was to generate fake identities for numerous HSBC account holders in collusion with a bank insider which saw victims collectively lose £342,000 between May 2018 and December 2019.
When arrested in December 2019, Ibn-Sheikh had in his possession a bag containing:
- Identity documents, driving licenses and passports from the UK and several EU countries, which prosecutors told the court would be used create fake identities
- 12 iPhones, which the court heard were to generate different contact details for the fake identities
- 10 bank cards with different names
- £12,000 in cash
The defendant’s lawyer said on behalf of his client, who entered guilty pleas, that being the son of the radical Hamza had been challenging for Ibn-Sheikh, who changed his name from Mustafa Hamza Kamel as a result.
Hamza’s racially charged rhetoric saw him jailed in the UK in 2006 for inciting violence. He was then extradited to the USA to face terrorism charges in 2012, of which he was convicted in 2014. Sentenced the following year, Hamza is currently serving life without the possibility of parole in a Colorado prison.
Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Organised Crime Division spokesperson said of Ibn-Sheikh's sentence that “wherever possible the CPS will work with our law enforcement partners to bring money laundering cases before a court and any ill-gotten gains recovered.”
Read more on this story at the BBC.
EU cites money laundering risk of Vanuatu’s ‘golden passport’ scheme as it considers suspending visa waiver deal
The European Commission (EC) recommended the measure against the Republic of Vanuatu, an island state in the South Pacific with an estimated population of just over 300,000, on Wednesday.
Vanuatu’s ‘golden passport’ program incentivises investments of $130,000 (£94,740) from citizens of third-party countries in return for citizenship of the tiny nation. Holders of Republic of Vanuatu passports can travel in the EU without obtaining visas for up to 90 days in any 180-day period under current arrangements.
If EU member-states support the proposal, it will be the first time the 27-country bloc sanctions a country for running a so-called ‘golden passport' scheme. The EC, however, stated in the proposal that Vanuatu’s implementation of its “investor citizenship scheme” poses security and money laundering risks for the EU, noting four areas of concern:
- Citizenships granted to persons flagged on Interpol databases
- Application processing times too short for adequate security screening
- A negligible application rejection rate
- Successful applications by persons from EU visa-required countries
If passed by the EC, the partial suspension will apply to holders of passports issued on or after 25 May 2015. The proposal also recommended that if Vanuatu authorities can upgrade the application screening process to acceptable levels during the partial suspension period, the sanction should be lifted.
Read more on this story at Reuters.
Australian regulator intensifies probe into AML failures at Star casino owners
The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) is broadening its investigations into alleged failures of The Star Entertainment Group Limited’s anti-money laundering controls.
AUSTRAC’s investigations into suspected AML breaches at the gambling and tourism giant focused only on the Star Sydney Casino, with Star being informed of the probe in June 2021.
Both The Star and its competitor in the gambling and tourism sector, Crown Resorts Limited, weathered a storm from both media and regulators over alleged AML failures and unethical practices during 2021. The Star owns and runs three casinos in two states, has a revenue of A$2,3bn (£1,22bn), and employs 8000.
Both The Star and Crown Resorts committed to phasing in cashless gambling at their Sydney casinos in May 2021 to comply with AML requirements.
The Star acknowledged the expansion of AUSTRAC’s probe into the efficacy of the company’s AML regime in an Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) announcement on Friday 14 January 2022. The casino operator noted that it “takes its anti-money laundering obligations very seriously and will fully co-operate with AUSTRAC in relation to its requests for information and documents and the investigation.”
Read more on this story at Sydney Morning Herald.
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