Casino crooks hung out to dry by anti-money laundering law

Criminals are finding it harder to clean their dirty money at New Zealand casinos, with new figures showing a huge drop in suspicious transactions.

The Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism Act was introduced in 2009 and enacted on July 1, 2013.

Since then, casinos have been more stringently required to detect, deter and report money laundering on their premises, with the Act containing harsh penalties if they fail to comply.

Figures released to ONE News under the Official Information Act by the Police's Financial Crime Group show the number of suspicious transactions reported to them by the six New Zealand casinos has dropped dramatically following the new requirements.

In the thirty months to June 30, 2013, the number of suspicious transactions reported by casinos was, on average, 103 per month.

In the thirty months following the implementation of the Act, the average was just 28 per month - a drop of about 73 per cent.

The Police Financial Intelligence Unit's latest quarterly report suggests that part of this downward trend may also be explained by improving reporting processes, leading to fewer, but higher-quality Suspicious Transaction Reports.

Criminals use casinos to hide the origin of their ill-gotten money by purchasing large amounts of chips or gambling credit, before gambling for a short time and then cashing in.

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The returned funds and accompanying cashier receipt make the basis for claiming the cash as gambling winnings.

A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson says New Zealand casinos have been "co-operative and proactive towards meeting their AML/CFT obligations.

"The casinos have risk assessments and programmes and policies established which help them detect and deter money laundering and financing of terrorism."

A SkyCity spokesperson said the company, which owns four of the six New Zealand casinos, "acknowledges the importance of discharging its obligations effectively in this area".

The Police's Acting National Manager of Organised Crime Detective Inspector Stu Mills says New Zealand casinos continue to be a target for criminals who want to hide the origins of their money, like anywhere else in the world.

"In the criminal environment, cash is still king," he says.

"This exposes a weakness and presents opportunities for law enforcement agencies and the business world to work together in the identification of money laundering."

In terms of money laundering hotspots, casinos are the least of New Zealand's worries.

The Police Financial Intelligence Unit reports that the vast majority of suspicious transaction reports submitted in New Zealand are from banks and remittance service providers.

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The Government is currently in the process tightening up the AML/CFT Act to cover other professions, such as lawyers, accountants and real estate agents.

This process has been expedited following a joint TVNZ investigation into Panama Papers documents, which revealed links between an Auckland law agency and an exiled Kazakh politician's lavish London home.

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Tobacco company's bid to stop plain cigarette packaging falls on deaf ears

A bid to stop plain cigarette packing in New Zealand appears to have fallen on deaf ears, as the government remains unfazed by Imperial Tobacco's claims it'll fight to protect its brand.

Imperial Tobacco has already lost one court battle in Australia and has another case pending before the World Trade Organisation. 

Axel Gietz, a spokesperson for the tobacco company, says a lot of time and money has been put into building the brand. 

It appears the Government is not bothered by Imperial Tobacco's claim that it will fight to protect its brand. Source: 1 NEWS

"When one of these key assets is being threatened to be taken away from us we can't just sit back and say 'yeah, help yourself'," Mr Gietz said.

One academic is not surprised the threat of legal action has surfaced here too.

Brand expert Bodo Lang says what happens down under has global reach.

"For these large global tobacco firms we are nothing, they're not interested in the financials here... They're interested in which way the arguments swing and which way the politicians move," he says.

"Once the precedent has been set, much larger markets like China, India and South America might follow suit at some point."

The government is pressing on with plans to implement new packaging regulations by the end of the year and appears confident of defending any legal action mounted here by the tobacco industry.