Australia plans more action against big banks on money laundering

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s big banks will face potential penalties within the next six months for breaching money laundering laws, Australia’s financial intelligence agency head said on Tuesday.

AUSTRAC Chief Executive Nicole Rose said banks have stepped up self-reporting of breaches to the agency by 70% since it launched civil action against Commonwealth Bank of Australia CBA.AX two years ago.

“I can say that we will have more enforcement action in the next six months - warnings all the way through to civil penalty - because of the increased intelligence that we’ve been receiving. There will be appropriate action,” Rose said in an interview on Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

Rose did not name any of the targeted banks.

CBA was lumped with an additional A$1 billion capital requirement in 2018 after it was accused of thousands of breaches, mostly for late filing of transaction reports. The rest of Australia's Big Four - Westpac Banking Corp WBC.AX, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd ANZ.AX and National Australia Bank Ltd NAB.AX - were required to set aside an additional A$500 million each the following year.

Rose said there had been “very little evidence” to date of any deliberate breaches of anti-money laundering laws.

Australia’s casinos have also been in the frame for some time for potential breaches of anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing laws, with AUSTRAC looking since last year at the risks around casino junkets, she said.

Those probes were not specifically related to recent media reports claiming that Crown Resorts CWN.AX hired travel agents with ties to drug traffickers to bring Chinese gamblers into Australia and knowingly laundered money at its casinos, Rose said. Crown has denied the allegations.

“The big casinos are very good at complying with our anti-money laundering/countering terrorism financing laws and they put a great deal of effort into ensuring that they do,” Rose said.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Jane Wardell