Finance Finance News New AUSTRAC boss shocked by ‘depth and breadth’ of money laundering

New AUSTRAC boss shocked by ‘depth and breadth’ of money laundering

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The Reserve Bank has held official interest rates at 1.5 per cent since August 2016. Photo: Getty
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Australia’s financial intelligence czar Nicole Rose says she is shocked at the depth of money laundering in the economy involving organised crime, child exploitation and drug importation.

“I thought coming from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission that I had a pretty good handle on serious and organised crime,” she told the ABC’s AM program.

“I didn’t appreciate the depth and breadth of involvement with private entities and banks. I didn’t appreciate how many industries it does actually touch.

“There’s a misperception that money laundering is a victimless white collar crime that’s probably just looking at tax avoidance.

“It has a massive impact on everyday life whether that’s child exploitation, serious and organised crime or drug importation. It all involves money laundering.”

Banks now ‘100 per cent onboard’

A career public servant specialising in anti-terrorism strategy, Ms Rose was appointed chief executive of the Australian Transactions Reports & Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) in November last year.

Ms Rose, a former deputy head of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, inherited AUSTRAC’s high stakes case against the Commonwealth Bank which is fighting almost 54,000 allegations that it broke anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing laws.

“They’ve been very keen to come and discuss ways in which they can help with the money laundering and terrorism financing fight and I’ve been really impressed with some of the ideas that they’ve had,” she said.

“I think they’re 100 per cent onboard.”

However, Ms Rose was uncertain when the $10,000 reporting threshold on cash transactions would be extended from financial institutions to other high-risk sectors such as real estate agents, accountants and lawyers.

“That’s going to take a little bit longer,” she said.

“Obviously that would have a big impost on small businesses and that’s something the Government is very mindful of.

“But we constantly review it because people aren’t walking around the way they use to with big wads and suitcases of cash.

“So we are looking at how people are moving money around and constantly assessing whether those levels ($10,000) are sufficient for us to keep an eye on what’s happening.”

Cryptocurrencies now under AUSTRAC spotlight

Ms Rose said AUSTRAC was also monitoring the rise of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and potential exploitation by money launderers.

“It’s another way of hiding your identity to move money around,” she explained.

Wherever people are hiding their identity it makes us suspicious about why they’re doing that.

“Legislation has come into force for AUSTRAC to regulate those industries and I have been impressed with the way those industries have embraced that regulation so they can increase trust in the sector with the public.”

But Ms Rose was reluctant to speculate on whether government would ultimately move to regulate cryptocurrencies and effectively make them legitimate.

“I wish I could see into the future but that’s a tough one to answer,” she responded.

Ms Rose said the Federal Government was acutely aware of money laundering and terror financing risks and that she meets with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton every week.