Congress approves stronger anti-money laundering policy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 20) - The country is poised to crack down further on dirty money with a slew of amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, avoiding sanctions resulting from a possible classification downgrade by an international financial watchdog.

A stronger AMLA is up for signing by President Duterte after Congress ratified proposed changes that would essentially expand the coverage of activities and persons subject to scrutiny by the Anti-Money Laundering Council. Enactment of the amendments would prevent the country's inclusion in the so-called gray list of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force.

The Philippines has until February to update the AMLA before it is subject to FATF review.

Some of the salient amendments are:

- coverage of transactions in excess of P500,000 of offshore gaming operators as well as service providers;

- coverage of real estate developers and brokers in the list of persons when they engage in a single cash transaction of more than P7.5 million;

- inclusion of tax evasion in the list of covered crimes;

- enhanced AMLC investigative powers such as subpoena and contempt;

- additional AMLC authority to preserve, manage, or dispose assets subject to freeze or asset preservation orders, and to retain forfeited assets pending turnover to the government.; and

- prohibition on local courts to issue temporary restraining orders or writs of injunction against the AMLC in its exercise of freeze and forfeiture powers, with the exemption of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

Inclusion in the gray list would put a country under close monitoring by FATF in terms of compliance with global anti-money laundering standards. Countries in the list face possible economic sanctions from institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and experience adverse effects on trade.