AVARUA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News/PINA, Jan 10) - Time is running out for the Cook Islands to convince the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that it should be removed from its money laundering blacklist at a February meeting.

The Cooks is one of 11 countries which still remains on the blacklist of FATF, a Paris-based body whose full name is Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering.

The list also includes Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nauru, Nigeria, Philippines, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Ukraine.

The Cooks listing follows a crackdown on countries with international finance and offshore banking centers and increased concerns about money laundering. This is now seen as being used to finance both criminal activities and terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Cook Islands is waiting the visit of an International Monetary Authority assessment team.

Cook Islands Money Laundering Authority chairman Kevin Carr said it was recommended that the Cooks may wish to consider the recommendations by this team.

He said: "The recommendation was accepted and assistance will be provided for drafting the appropriate legislation including developing overarching counter-terrorism legislation."

Carr said New Zealand has also supported this approach.

Finance Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry said last month that the purpose of the International Monetary Authority team is to identify the country’s needs in terms of combating money laundering.

"We did indicate to them for example, that the lack of experience prevents us from complying with their time scale," said Sir Geoffrey.

The Financial Action Task Force will review again the situation of each non-cooperative country and territory at its next plenary meeting, 12 to 14 February.

Carr said that there are three outstanding matters required of the Cooks by the Financial Action Task Force.

These are:

- Establishment of a Financial Intelligence Unit,

- Resourcing the capacity of the Offshore Commissioner’s Office,

- Passing regulations which provide for customer and client identification by financial institutions, requirements for reporting and record keeping which are necessary for the prevention of money laundering.

The Financial Intelligence Unit has been set up under the auspices of the Cook Islands Money Laundering Authority.

The Authority was established to investigate any illegal transactions.

A Money Laundering Prevention Act was passed in August 2000 and regulations also came into force last February.

Financial Secretary Carr, Police Commissioner Pira Wichman and Commissioner for Offshore Financial Services, Matilda Urhle are members of the Money Laundering Authority.

January 10, 2003

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