Westpac agrees to $1.3bn penalty for AML/CTF breaches

Westpac and AUSTRAC have agreed to a $1.3bn penalty for over 23 million alleged breaches of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (AML/CTF Act).

The proposed penalty and settlement of the civil penalty proceedings remain subject to approval by the Federal Court.

In reaching the agreement for the proposed penalty, Westpac admitted to contravening the AML/CTF Act over 23 million times by failing to pass on information relating to the origin of some of the international funds transfers.

Westpac also admitted to failing to adequately assess and monitor the risks associated with the movement of money into and out of Australia through its correspondent banking relationships, including with known higher risk jurisdictions. It also admitted to not carrying out appropriate customer due diligence in relation to certain suspicious transactions.

The proposed penalty follows a $700m penalty for the Commonwealth Bank in 2018 for over 53,000 contraventions of the AML/CTF Act in relation to CBA’s intelligent deposit ATMs that accepted cash deposits. In the CBA case, the Court accepted the parties’ submission to impose an agreed single penalty amount of $700m for the totality of the contravening conduct, rather than imposing multiple penalties: Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre v Commonwealth Bank of Australia Limited [2018] FCA 930.

Westpac’s response

For its part, Westpac Group CEO, Peter King, said the bank is committed to ensuring these mistakes do not happened again. Westpac said it has made substantial investments to improve its end-to-end financial crime risk management processes with clear accountabilities for AML/CTF compliance. This includes the recruitment of 200 financial crime people, led by a new Group Executive, and the establishment of a new Board Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Sub-committee.

Stuart Jones is a Senior Tax Writer with Thomson Reuters and a respected commentator on all matters superannuation. Stuart is the author of the Australian Superannuation Handbook and contributes extensively to other Thomson Reuters’ services, including the Australian Tax Handbook.

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