Lack of regulation makes Australia an 'attractive target for money launderers': ANZ

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The logo of the ANZ Banking Group is displayed in the window of a newly opened branch in central Sydney, Australia, Aprl 30, 2016. Reuters/David Gray

The hot property market in Australia has become an appealing place for criminals. It is estimated that billions of dollars of dirty money is being laundered through housing property after succeeding fails of the government to widen money laundering laws to cover real estate agents, lawyers and accountants, according to ANZ.

Guy Boyd, ANZ's head of financial crime, has expressed concerns about the failure of governments for a more comprehensive legislation. In an interview, he said that there possibly has been a lack of political will. He slammed the lack of regulation in the country, pointing out that it makes Australia an appealing target for money launderers. Boyd thinks the Aussie real estate has obviously become an attractive destination for capital, both legitimate and illegitimate.

Boyd is uncertain if he would call Australia a haven for criminals, but stressed it is certainly a place for illegitimate money. Anti-money laundering law in Australia is not extended to real estate agents, lawyers and accountants, although it was promised the legislation would be extended when it was enacted in 2006.

But Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan was quick to defend the country’s anti-money laundering regime. "We do have very robust arrangements in Australia, including for property, but we are looking at how we can improve those arrangements," the minister told reporters at a press conference in Sydney on Wednesday.

Australia's anti-money laundering (AML) legislation currently covers banks and money changers. Keenan assured industry consultation on widening the laws continues.

The Law Council of Australia, however, is against the extension of the laws. Executive board member Konrad de Kerloy argued that lawyers were already heavily regulated. "Whilst no lawyers want to be involved in wittingly or unwittingly in money laundering, the question is really, does the cost justify the imposition of an extra layer of regulation on lawyers?" ABC quotes him as saying.

International bodies including Transparency International and Financial Action Task Force have criticised the nation’s lack of action on requiring real estate agents, lawyers and accountants to report suspicious transactions. Two years ago, the country’s financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC indicated in a report that the laundering of illicit funds through real estate was "an established money laundering method in Australia.”

Its reports said that at least $1 billion in suspicious transactions were from Chinese investors into Australian property in 2015-16.The country has also been a target for other countries like Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

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