Trinidad and Tobago Embassy in Belgium forced to change banks

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley responds to questions virtually during Parliament, Red House, Port of Spain, on Friday. Rowley tested positve for covid19 for a fourth time on Wednesday. – AYANNA KINSALE

The Prime Minister said the impending closure of a bank account for the TT Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, was not a result of TT being named in the EU list of non-co-operative jurisdictions.

Dr Rowley was responding to questions posed to him by Opposition representatives in Parliament on Friday.

“The closures are being done as part of the EU’s mitigation of money laundering risks,” Rowley said. “The closing of the accounts by some diplomatic missions by Belgium banks came as an application of the EU law in anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.”

The EU directive against money laundering and financing terrorism established in 2015 was passed into Belgium law in 2020. The AMLF directives listed in article 38 of the Belgian Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMDL5) required banks to now get additional information on customers including the ultimate beneficial owner of the account, the intended nature of the business relationship between the consumer and the bank, the source of funds, and a requirement by the bank to establish and maintain business relationship and monitoring of these accounts.

Banks would also be required to take more mitigating measures if the risk of money laundering is higher, for example, with politically prominent people or if an account is linked to countries that had deficiencies in their ML/TF prevention regimes.

This is where the EU’s list of non-co-operative jurisdictions come in.

TT is among 16 countries considered as non-co-operative jurisdictions – countries which do not yet comply with all international standards, but have committed to implementing reforms. Other countries include British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Costa Rica, Turks and Caicos Islands and Russia.

TT is not the only country affected by the new Belgian banking rules. In 2022 the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) of which TT is a member, issued a statement expressing concerns of the effect of the change in laws saying that the change and resulting closure of bank accounts is causing difficulties which affect the proper functioning of the diplomatic missions in Belgium and obstructs the embassies in their fulfilment of their duties as mandated by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

“The members of the OACPS are committed at the highest political level to combat illicit financing flows including addressing the issues of AML/CFT,” the OACPS said in its statement. “It is noteworthy that the Kingdom of Belgium as a host country has a responsibility under the Vienna Convention to ensure the smooth functioning of Diplomatic Missions.”

Rowley said in February the embassy was informed by its Belgian bank that it would close its account. The embassy requested an extension so it could find another bank, and it was granted an extension to May.