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Real estate deals under investigation

The Fiji Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU)is currently investigating real estate agents suspected to be involved in transactions which could be illegal. This was confirmed by FIU director Razim Buksh at
25 Apr 2017 14:50
Real estate deals under investigation
FIU Director Razim Buksh and acting CEO REALSB Virisila Tuimanu at the MOU signing on April 24, 2017 at the Reserve Bank of Fiji. Photo: Selita Bolanavanua

The Fiji Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU)is currently investigating real estate agents suspected to be involved in transactions which could be illegal.

This was confirmed by FIU director Razim Buksh at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Real Estate Agents Licensing Board (REALB) yesterday.

The MOU will establish an effective framework to detect and investigate breaches under the relevant laws related to money laundering and terrorist financing offences in Fiji.

“We are investigating a few real estate agents and they are under our radar. We believe they have acquired financial transactions with proceeds suspected to be tainted as proceeds or proceeds acquired through illegal or unlawful means,” said Mr Buksh.

“We are keeping a watch on a few real estate agents and monitoring several clients who have invested their wealth in real estate markets in Fiji. We believe these proceeds were acquired by unlawful means.”

He said FIU is also looking at people who have invested in real estate markets in Fiji to avoid being taxed.

“We are closely linked with the Police and the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority. Once the investigations are complete, we will communicate it to the proper enforcement agencies,” he said.

“We want the real estate agents to come fully onboard and work with the regulators so that it gives the level of confidence that we would want in Fiji for the real estate sectors.”

He said suspicious transactions that are reported to the FIU in an annual basis exceeds 500 suspicious transaction reports from all sectors.

“FIU can access bank accounts without having the need to obtain a search warrant. We are able to dissect the transaction and identify the transaction where the money may be held then share this information with the relevant agencies,” said Mr Bush.

REALB acting chief executive officer Virisila Tuimanu said there are fewer  than 100 real estate agents registered in Fiji.

She said REALB has an open door policy whereby  a public register is made available for anyone to request information regarding any real estate agent.

“On Facebook, we are monitoring as well. If you are trying to sell your property on Facebook then you do not require a licence from us. We only require a licence if you are a third party selling on behalf of the seller and you are getting a commission out of it,” said Ms Tuimanu.

So far, there are not more than ten complaints received by REALB, according to Ms Tuimanu.

“According to the FIU statistics, real estate complaints are lower than the others but if complaints come in, we liase with the police on a daily basis and we have powers under our legislation. We do not have a serious case concerning tax at the moment but we have the same MOU on information sharing with FRCA too,” said Ms Tuimanu.

Importance of MOU

Mr Buksh said the signing of the MOU creates a formal platform for the two agencies to work together.

“FIU can cooperate with REALB and they will be able to supplement the work and functions that FIU has under the Fiji Financial Transactions Reporting Act to deliver its intelligence in a more complete and thorough way to the relevant stakeholders,” said Mr Buksh.

He said every piece of intelligence developed by FIU is not only for the Unit’s consumption but information that will be disseminated to the appropriate agencies such as the Police .b

According to the Fiji Financial Transactions Reporting Act, the FIU has powers to monitor all financial activities happening in Fiji and the Unit can trace financial transactions of the victims.

“The signing of MOU will send the right signal and message to the sector and stakeholders that we need them to come on board where they are able to identify suspicious clients.”

“Where they have doubts about the funds that will be used to buy the property and where there are third parties involved in a transaction, this is another aspect of fraudulent activities. We want real estate agents to be able to scrutinise all three and then report any suspicious transactions to the FIU in a timely manner,” said Mr Buksh.

Feedback: monica.aguilar@fijisun.com.fj

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