Friday, October 23, 2020

Thailand: Amlo goes high-tech to tackle laundering

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Pol Maj Gen Preecha Charoensahayanon sees cryptocurrency as a new challenge of the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) under his leadership.

“It will be a tool of new money laundering,” acting Amlo secretary-general Preecha said when asked to explain his vision of the road ahead as the office prepares to mark its 20th anniversary on Aug 20.

In his view, Amlo’s work will be focused on two areas in the near future — one involving its traditional duty to prevent and crack secret plots to hide illegal assets, and the other in connection with the unfamiliar role of probing new hideouts in the cyber world.

Pol Maj Gen Preecha believes criminal suspects will increasingly transform their money into digital currencies such as bitcoins as the virtual format will make it harder for authorities to trace their financial transactions.

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He is keen not to let that situation happen.

“That’s why we’re amending laws to prepare us for new online missions,” he said.

The Amlo chief will first look at the Anti-Money Laundering Act. He wants to add a sectio n requiring providers of cryptocurrency exchange services to report activities to the office.

This will enable Amlo officers to keep track of changes in currency formats. He said the information is crucial if they need to trace money activities on internet-based platforms.

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He said the law change corresponds with international standards which regulate these service providers and demands they scrutinise their customers’ behaviour and report irregular transactions to authorities.

Though Amlo officers currently do not receive complaints, or deal with, cases directly involving virtual currencies, they need to stay alert.

“We may not find any clue, but that doesn’t mean the wrongdoing does not occur,” he said.

Last year the public was alerted to a bitcoin scam involving a prime suspect, Prinya Jaravijit, an elder brother of actor Jiratpisit, or “Boom”. The businessman was accused of fooling Finnish investor Aarni Otava Saarimaa into investing a total of 797 million baht to buy shares of three companies.

RelatedThailand Tycoon Premchai awaits 9am bribery verdict

Mr Saarimaa was also told to pay in the form of bitcoins which was later secretly withdrawn by the suspect.

This case, which was handled mainly by the Crime Suppression Division (CSD), was not under the direct responsibility of Amlo, but it showed digital currency can be used as part of a crime.

“We have to brace for it,” Pol Maj Gen Preecha said, referring to a need to keep abreast of high technology that makes and manages digital currencies.

The issue was at the top of his priorities after he was selected to succeed deputy national police chief Rungroj Saengkhram who assumed the acting leadership at Amlo last year.

Pol Gen Rungroj replaced Pol Maj Gen Romsit Weeriyasan, who was at the top job for only six weeks before being transferred on Aug 14 last year to work as an inspector-general attached with the Office of the Prime Minister. The transfer order was issued by the defunct National Council for Peace and Order.

Pol Maj Gen Preecha, a former deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, has seen his work progress smoothly at Amlo after serving as its deputy secretary-general for nearly two years.

In the first half of this year, Amlo seized or froze illegal assets worth up to 934 million baht.

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But despite having full authority to deal with these allegedly laundered assets, Pol Maj Gen Preecha said he prefers to see Amlo become more cautious to avoid facing counter-lawsuits lodged by suspects.

Amlo officers will stick to laws which allow them to exercise power on 28 offences including drug trade and cheating.

To avoid exposing itself to conflicts with accused people, “We’ll also try not to unveil details of some crucial cases,” Pol Maj Gen Preecha said.

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