SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday it was up to the country’s financial regulator to prosecute bankers following the release of a scathing report which found some institutions had pursued profit at the expense of honesty.
In almost 60 days of public hearings since February an inquiry into the financial sector heard instances of bribery, fraud, fee-gouging and board-level deception across the industry.
Some of the more shocking allegations included the charging of fees to dead people and the aggressive selling of a complicated insurance product to a boy with Down Syndrome over the telephone.
Morrison told Australian Broadcasting Corp television on Sunday that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) had previously been too shy in prosecuting.
“Now ASIC, I think has been found wanting ... I’m glad we’ve increased its powers, its penalties, its resources and in particular its focus on prosecution,” he said.
Morrison said he expected ASIC to take action against disgraced bankers following the release of the Royal Commission’s interim report on Friday.
“I mean, that’s the job of ASIC. It’s ASIC’s job.”
ASIC said in a statement on Friday that it would work towards building a system of tougher penalties.
ASIC senior executive leader of corporate affairs Matthew Abbott said on Sunday that the regulator had a mandate to prosecute through the courts and had criminally convicted more than 160 people in the seven years since July 2011.
“Over that time we have also secured compensation of A$1.82 billion ($1.32 billion) for investors and consumers,” he said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
The ASIC had also completed civil proceedings against more than 140 people, and removed more than 840 other people and companies from the financial services industry.
Australia’s government proposed new laws last year to increase penalties and lengthen prison terms for financial crimes in a bid to strengthen the regulator’s enforcement powers.
($1 = 1.3833 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Michael Perry