South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma has signed the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment (FICA) bill into law in a legal development that had been developing into a political strife.
The amendment of the FICA Act, with a primary aim of combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism, had caused a storm within South Africa’s political landscape. Some groups deemed to be closer to the President wanted the amendments to be watered down with a claim that they come to criminalise emerging and mainly black business. This view was dismissed as ridiculous by others who charged that the opposition to the new regulations were protecting nefarious financial activity.
The matter had developed to implicate the friends of the president, the Gupta’s, who stand accused of nefarious financial activity.
A statement from the Presidency said “The President is now satisfied that the Act addresses the constitutional concerns he had raised about warrantless searches.”
The statement added that the amendments to the FICA Act further strengthen the transparency and integrity of the South African financial system in its objectives to combat financial crimes, which include tax evasion, money laundering and the financing of terrorism and illicit financial flows. The amendments also make it harder for persons who are involved in illegitimate activities or tax evasion to hide behind legal entities like shell companies and trusts.
Measures to strengthen anti-money laundering and the combating of terrorist financing regulatory framework in the Amendment Act include-
• requiring the identification of beneficial owners to prevent natural persons from misusing legal entities for nefarious purposes like evading tax;
• enhancing the customer due diligence requirements that will ensure that entities fully understand the nature and potential risk posed by their customers;
• providing for the adoption of a risk based approach in the identification and assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing risks, and assist in making customer compliance easier;
• providing for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions relating to the freezing of assets relating to persons associated with terrorism;
• safeguarding information in line with the Protection of Personal Information;
• providing for inspection powers for regulatory compliance purposes in accordance with the Constitution; and
• enhancing certain administrative and enforcement mechanisms.
The Presidency statement said the amendment Act sends a strong message about South Africa’s commitment to combating financial crime, protecting the integrity of our financial system and our tax base, and remaining part of the global financial system. They further demonstrate South Africa’s membership commitments to the Financial Action Task Force and United Nations.
This development may be a blow to the groups which opposed the amendment. These include the Progressive Professional Forum whose president, Jimmy Manyi, had branded the FICA bill as a dangerous piece of legislation and an attempt to bankrupt the ruling party – ANC.