Former police commissioner Gary Griffith and his wife Nicole, left. FILE PHOTO –
The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) says it has always applied “diligence and reverence” for the law when exercising its powers.
In a release on Wednesday, the FIU also said it ensured whenever it requests information from financial institutions and listed businesses, it has sufficient and lawful basis for doing so.
The FIU’s release insisted all requests for information made by the it were done within the parameters of the Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago Act.
“Under its existing mandate, the FIU will not make a request for financial information arbitrarily or without lawful cause.”
Wednesday’s statement followed a ruling of the High Court which blocked the unit from accessing the banking information of former police commissioner Gary Griffith and his wife Nicole Dyer Griffith.
The Griffiths challenged the legality of a request by FIU acting director, Nigel Stoddard, to several financial institutions for information on their accounts.
On September 11, Justice Devindra Rampersad quashed Stoddard’s requests and prohibited him from being able to use any information he may have already received.
The judge said Stoddard acted in excess of his jurisdiction and that the requests were an abuse of power.
In their claim, the couple contended that Stoddard did not have any suspicious transaction or suspicious activity report (STR and SAR) from any financial institution for him to make such requests.
The judge ruled that without a “trigger,” the exercise of section 8(3)(a) would be arbitrary and a potential abuse of power which could not be reasonably justified by a court.
“Therefore, this court is of the respectful view that any exercise of a request for information under section 8 (3) (a) without an STR or an SAR would be unconstitutional,” Rampersad said in his ruling.
That section gives the FIU director the power to have access to private banking information from a financial institution or listed business.
The FIU acknowledged Rampersad’s ruling and said it noted the declaration prohibits it from acting in the absence of an STR or SAR, other than in circumstances where section 11 is invoked.
That section gives the director, after analysing an STR or SAR, the power to access further information that could disclose that a specific offence has been committed or is the proceeds of a criminal act. It also allows him to apply to the High Court to get information if a financial institution refuses to provide it.
“The FIUTT maintains that knowledge of whether an STR/SAR has been filed must be held in the strictest of confidence,” the release said.
The release acknowledged the judge’s recognition that the director was hamstrung by statute to make any public statement.
In his ruling, the judge said the director was bound by an oath of secrecy and could not confirm or deny there was a STR or SAR or the veracity of the document given to Griffith by a whistle-blower in 2022.
The Griffiths’ claim said on October 28, 2022, the former top cop received information from an anonymous source that the FIU made a request to financial institutions for information on him and his wife as well as other people and entities – 52 in all.
The FIU said it will continue to maintain its obligations of confidentiality concerning all intelligence and information it receives unless compelled to disclose it by a court order.
“Information and reports received by the FIUTT are confidential and protected by law.” It said it took any breach of the confidentiality requirement with “grave seriousness,” and when discovered, will be pursued to the “fullest extent of the law.”
It also said when it receives a request for financial information, it has to first ensure it satisfies all requirements of FIUTT regulations.
It said the regulations were statutory safeguards to ensure financial information was not gathered arbitrarily, was obtained lawfully and was not used for any other purpose than for which it was requested.
It further noted that other than STRs or SARs, anyone can make a voluntary information report (VIR) to the unit where they have knowledge or suspicions of money laundering.
The FIUTT said it accepted VIRs since the Proceeds of Crime Act made it an offence for anyone who has knowledge or suspicion of an act of money laundering to fail to disclose it to the police or the unit.