The number nineteen is an auspicious number known to be associated with success and honour, which adequately depicts the work of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Financial Intelligence Unit (SVGFIU) throughout the years as it celebrated its 19th anniversary on May 6, 2021. The SVGFIU is the national centralised agency responsible for the receipt, analysis and investigation of suspicious transaction reports. This hybrid unit consists of an administrative, legal, investigative, analytical and supervisory department, and contributes to the economic and social stability of the nation by fulfilling its mission to safeguard financial systems from abuse by deterring the incidents of money laundering, terrorist financing and other serious crimes.
In April 2020, the Supervisory Department of the SVGFIU was designated the supervisory authority of Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and is therefore tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that NPOs are in compliance with their counter financing of terrorism (CFT) obligations without severely impeding the “good works” of the NPOs. The SVGFIU recognises that NPOs are a vibrant and integral part of the contemporary global environment as they provide charitable services around the world and locally, especially to those in need and applauds the efforts of the NPO community to meet such needs, especially in these unprecedented times of outbreaks of diseases and natural disasters.
Unfortunately, the nation has been plagued by ongoing adversities namely: the COVID-19 pandemic, the dengue outbreak, the eruption of La Soufriere Volcano and the most recent flash flood, in which the population has been severely impacted socially, economically and physically. This has given rise to the increase of monies entering the country via financial institutions, money remitters, NPOs and new payment products and services, as well as goods through the Customs and Excise Department to provide much needed assistance to citizens.
Regrettably, criminals may seek to capitalise on these natural disasters and global pandemic to engage in illicit activities. This may occur in several ways:
1. Increase in fundraising scams including fake ‘go fund me’ campaigns and criminals posing as international organisations or charities;
2. Criminals attempting to bypass customer due diligence measures by using displacement due to the volcanic eruption as a reason for their inability to provide the required identification documents;
3. Criminals exploiting COVID-19 and the associated economic downturn to move into new cash-intensive lines of business;
4. Increased misuse of online financial services and virtual assets to move and conceal illicit funds;
5. The exploitation of public measures by natural and legal persons to conceal and launder illicit proceeds which were intended to provide assistance and promote entrepreneurial ventures; and
6. Increased use of the unregulated financial sector such as new payment products and services.
While the SVGFIU celebrates its 19th year of existence, it remains cognizant of the environment within which it operates and the fact that amidst natural disasters and a pandemic, citizens are in dire need of assistance from family and friends abroad, as well as NPOs which are crucial for the road to recovery. However, while financial inclusion is paramount especially in these difficult times, using a risk-based approach, individuals and entities must remember to remain vigilant to ensure that criminal enterprises do not capitalise on the current circumstances to engage in illicit activities and make an already difficult state of affairs worse. The SVGFIU pledges to continue to work to take the profit out of crime, thereby playing our part in facilitating the stabilisation of the economy.