Remarks by Chief Minister Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith on the Launching of the Financial Investigation Agency
Ladies and gentlemen
The inauguration of the Financial Investigation Agency at this ceremony today is yet another indication of my Government’s commitment to uphold integrity and honesty in business and to stamp out financial and other white-collar crimes, whether in the Territory or whether using the Territory’s financial vehicles as conduits. This commitment is the foundation of our entire financial industry and, I can assure you, it will always be a top priority for this Government.
In the context of the ongoing changes and globalisation in the modern world, the establishment of the Financial Investigation Agency also demonstrates my Government’s continued commitment to enhancing cooperation with the international community. At the same time, the Agency will help to safeguard and protect the financial services industry, as well as promote the welfare of the Territory’s economy. The fact that the establishment of this Agency comes on the heels of the recently introduced Integrity Bill in the Legislature is indeed another fulfillment of our promise to have an open and transparent Government at all times.
In recent months, my Administration has been working closely with the financial services community and we recognise the critical contribution that the industry is making to our Territory’s prosperity. We are dedicated to fostering an environment that will lead to increased growth and more opportunities for our people and, to this end, we have already convened a special committee to develop a strategic development plan for the financial sector. In addition, we have conducted two international road shows – one in London, England and one in New York, USA – and two more are scheduled for Hong Kong and Singapore this month.
Currently, Government is working to develop new legislation to improve regulation and improve the effectiveness of the Financial Services Commission. These initiatives demonstrate that Government is doing its part to encourage the growth and development of legitimate enterprises on our shores and that we have zero-tolerance for those who engage in unethical business. We will do whatever it takes to keep the international image of business practices in our industry intact and we will not hesitate to take action against those who violate trust and confidence.
The establishment of the Financial Investigation Agency was approved by the Governor in Council in October 2002. Following this, the Financial Investigation Agency Act (2003) was passed by the Legislature on 30th December 2003 and came into effect on 1st April 2004. The Agency’s functions will include processing requests for legal assistance from several international judicial and law enforcement bodies; assisting with the investigation of financial crimes; and receiving, analysing and investigating suspicious transaction reports filed under the Proceeds of the Criminal Conduct Act.
Previously, the Financial Investigations Unit of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force undertook most of these investigative functions, with other agencies such as the Attorney General’s Chambers coordinating and overseeing relevant requests. The passage of the Financial Investigation Agency Act was critical to arm the Agency with the independence which international standards dictate that it needs. The Financial Investigation Agency Act was also necessary to ensure that the intelligence and information held by the Agency is securely protected and disseminated only in accordance with the law. The Agency’s establishment is timely in light of the recent onslaught on the Territory’s legal and regulatory regimes in relation to the administration of its financial services industry, its ability and resources to effectively check the activities of money launderers and fraudsters, and its cooperation in mutual legal assistance matters.
As a Government, we are mindful of the several initiatives of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Financial Action Task Force, the European Union, the Financial Stability Forum and the International Monetary Fund, which threaten the future of the financial services industry in the region. In this regard, it is also expected that the Financial Investigation Agency, in developing its mandate, will assist the Ministry of Finance in implementing relevant Tax Information Exchange and related agreements.
I wish to thank all those who will be serving on the Executive Body of the Agency and assure them of my Government’s full support in every aspect of the mandate they have been given. I also thank members of the business and financial services communities for their continued support and cooperation in making our Territory’s financial services sector one which we are all proud of.
Thank you and good day to you all.