20 Nov 2019

Reserve Bank keeping close eye on Westpac Australia's findings

7:04 pm on 20 November 2019

Westpac New Zealand is putting distance between itself and allegations of breaches of Australia's anti-money laundering laws by its parent company.

Westpac Bank sign on Queen Street, Auckland.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The Australian financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC said Westpac's lax monitoring may have allowed known paedophiles and other criminals to send money offshore.

Australia's Westpac Banking Corporation has been accused of 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering rules.

AUSTRAC said Westpac commited "serious and systemic non-compliance" with anti-money laundering laws, and confirmed it would seek fines of more than $AU20 million for every transaction Westpac had failed to monitor, adequately or report on time.

Westpac is charged with maintaining relationships with offshore banks without assessing their business relationships or banking products, even when those banks disclosed relationships with "high risk" countries, including Iraq, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The New Zealand operation said it was not involved in the legal action in Australia, and it complied with this country's laws.

In a written statement, Westpac Group said it received a statement of claim from AUSTRAC this morning and would make a further statement to the Australian Stock Exchange once this had been analysed.

Deputy Governor Geoff Bascand said RBNZ would be looking closely at the Australian findings to see if they had any relevance for Westpac New Zealand.

He said meanwhile, the Reserve Bank would continue its regular programme of ensuring New Zealand banks comply with Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism laws.

ASB Bank's Australian parent, the Commonwealth Bank, was fined $AU700,000 a few years ago for similar anti-money laundering breaches.

- with ABC

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