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Australia and UNODC join forces to combat money laundering and promote the seizure or confiscation of criminal assets

Vientiane, Lao PDR (12 March 2019)
- The vast majority of crime is committed for profit, enabling offenders to live luxurious lifestyles and to reinvest in their criminal activities. A recent UNODC report assessed the value of transnational and organized crime in the Mekong region to be over $100 billion USD annually and the profit from just one crime type, human trafficking, known to exceed $9.1 billion USD annually. The majority of these illicit proceeds needs to be laundered or 'cleaned' to allow the criminals to spend the money without drawing the attention of the authorities.

As part of an on-going technical assistance program to Lao PDR, the Australian Home Affairs Department, the Financial Action Task Force regional body, Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) and UNODC joined forces to deliver anti-money laundering, financial investigation and asset forfeiture training to a mixed group of police, customs, FIU staff and prosecutors in Vientiane.

Delivered over three days, the training examined money laundering typologies, the domestic anti-money laundering law and revised Penal Code offence for money laundering, sources of information, case management, the role of the Financial Intelligence Unit and international enquiries. Presentations and practical exercises were delivered by the UNODC regional AML/CFT advisor Mr Chris Batt, Australian Home Affairs instructors, Mike Petty and Jean Cuthill, Sirirut Wiwek from the Thai Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) and Miss Nantha Phommavongsa from the Lao FIU.

UNODC's regional AML advisor, Mr Chris Batt explained that the idea of following the money and using anti-money laundering techniques wasn't new to law enforcement agencies, this had been happening for some time in drug investigation cases he said. What was new was that the same techniques could bring added benefits to most other crime types including human trafficking, corruption and the illicit trade in wildlife. Mr Batt said 'law enforcement agencies in the region including in Lao PDR need to start using financial investigation and anti-money laundering techniques to combat all organized crime and at the same time remove the profit from crime. The idea behind this workshop is to raise awareness of such benefits and to provide the necessary skills to follow the money to the police, Customs, prosecutors and financial intelligence staff'

The three day course included a number of practical exercises and case studies in addition to the more traditional presentations on the international standards governing money laundering, the Lao domestic legal framework and international enquiries. Mr Batt explained that timing of the workshop was crucial as Lao PDR prepares for its 2020 international assessment of its AML/CFT regime which will include a focus on the effective use of the Lao anti-money laundering legislation. The assessment would include a focus of how many financial investigations and money laundering cases had been conducted in the four years leading up to the evaluation, hence the need for these kinds of workshops Mr Batt added. The workshop was jointly funded by New Zealand, Australia and UNODC.