Oman’s Financial Intelligence Unit probes 468 cases in 2017

Muscat: Instances of suspicious transactions reported to the National Centre of Financial Information (NCFI) – the Sultanate’s frontline financial intelligence unit – declined almost 25 per cent to 468 cases in 2017, down from 623 cases a year earlier.

The vast majority of Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) were reported by banks (292), followed by money exchanges (171), the NCFI revealed in its Annual Report for 2017. Deposits and withdrawals via the banking system represented the dominant route used by the suspects to perpetrate their alleged crimes, with as many as 339 cases falling in this category, followed by money transfers (121). Money exchanges were used in five of the cases, while a further three suspicious transactions were classified as loan repayments/cash movement.

Also known as the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU – Oman), the National Centre of Financial Investment was established in 2010 pursuant to the enactment of the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Law issued via Royal Decree79/2010. Operating under the auspices of the Royal Oman Police (ROP), the Centre is tasked with investigating suspicious transactions reports (STRs) linked to the proceeds of crimes, terrorism, terrorist crimes and terrorist organizations or suspected to include money laundering or financing of terrorism.

As part of its remit, the NCFI shares information and coordinates with competent authorities within the Sultanate as well as Financial Intelligence Units (FIU) in other countries, among other international organizations, in accordance with international and bilateral agreements to which the Sultanate is a party.

Despite a significant decline in suspicious transactions reported last year, cases received by the NCFI have been on the uptrend over the past couple of years.  From 266 cases reported in 2014, it climbed to 287 a year later, surging to 623 reports in 2016, before slumping to 468 cases last year.

Of last year’s total of 468 STRs, cash was used as the mode of suspicious transaction in all but three of the cases, according to the annual report. In two of the instances, suspicious payments were made by cheque, while in a solitary case, laundering through real estate investments was suspected.

In actions taken over the course of 2017, the NCFI investigated and uncovered as many as 155 cases of suspected tax evasion while as many as 69 cases were referred to Public Prosecution for criminal action against the suspects. A further 50 cases were referred to the competent authorities.

In its Annual Report, the NCFI also underscored the importance of cooperation with its counterparts elsewhere in the region and around the world.  “Because money laundering and financing of terrorism crimes are cross-border in nature, combating them requires international cooperation between counterpart FIUs and the Centre,” the NCFI said. “This cooperation is translated through exchange of information between FIUs. This in turn, protects the international community against implications of these crimes. In 2017, the Centre received a number of international requests. In turn, it requested information related to STRs from some counterpart FIUs.”

Further, with a view to developing its technical, technological and forensic capabilities in investigating money laundering and terrorist financing, the NCFI participated in a range of international events, and UN and regional forums.

Additionally, in line with its broader mandate to raise awareness about the threat posed by money laundering and terrorist financing, the NCFI continued to engage with all segments of society – represented by various competent authorities, regulators, financial institutions, non-financial businesses and professional, and non-profit organisations to detect such crimes. A number of lectures and programmes were organized to this end last year, it added.

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