THE WESTERN Australian decision to jump the gun on money laundering laws ahead of other states was not an attempt to do things differently, but rather to get things rolling, according to the WA’s peak legal body.
The WA Government’s crackdown on criminal wealth has seen the introduction of new laws into that state’s parliament. While the states refused the Federal Government’s initial request that they refer their powers on money laundering to the Commonwealth, WA has taken the lead by introducing laws that will cover a wider net of such crimes.
Law Society president Ian Weldon said that although the Federal Government would prefer a transfer of power, the states do not necessarily agree, and so are enacting their own legislation. WA is leading the way, he suggested.
However, the changes introduced in the Criminal Law Amendment Bill (Criminal Property) 2004 do fall in line with federal requirements that laundering charges be extended to situations even where no offence is committed.
The amendments attempt to strengthen money laundering laws to help catch the major crime figures who provide cash, premises or other property to facilitate crime. They improve on current laws which only target criminals who launder money or property that are the proceeds of crime.
This has allowed some major criminals who were caught with large sums of money or property that was intended for use in crime, such as buying drugs, to avoid prosecution if it could not be proven it was derived from crime.
The widening of the net would ensure charges could be laid regardless of whether property came from crime or was intended for crime, WA Attorney General Jim McGinty said.
A second important reform in relation to criminal property was also introduced as part of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. An amendment to the Sentencing Act 1995 will ensure that offenders whose legitimately acquired assets have been confiscated do not receive lighter penalties as a result.
“The main benefit of this Bill in relation to sentencing is that it will ensure that the gap that currently exists in the legislation will be closed, and only those who assist in the facilitation of confiscating their assets will feel the benefits of mitigation against sentence,” McGinty told parliament.
McGinty said he was aware of at least four cases where drug dealers had received reduced sentences specifically because they had their assets seized.
“Having court provide lighter jail terms to wealthy criminals goes against the spirit and intention of WA’s tough criminal property confiscation laws which are designed to send a very clear message that crime does not pay,” he said.
“There is also an element of being able to buy your way out of jail if you have sufficient assets, which I find very disturbing.”
Law Society president Weldon said he supported moves by other states to introduce similar legislation that would also close the apparent loophole in the previous law, and told Lawyers Weekly it would be preferable if all states had consistent legislation.
In this instance, Weldon said, each state was adopting its own measure. “When dealing with money laundering it makes sense to have uniform laws, but you can’t make other states agree with you, so Western Australia is leading a different way, which may be the next best thing,” he said.
Another way of looking at it, Weldon said, was that “law and order and crime are always big issues. It could be that the states and territories are trying to keep to themselves [on this issue]”.