Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre
|Headquarters||Level 7, Tower A, Zenith Centre, 821 Pacific Highway, West Chatswood, New South Wales|
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) is an Australian government agency, established in 1989 under the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988 and continued in existence under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (AML/CTF Act). The agency is Australia's financial intelligence unit to counter money laundering, organised crime, tax evasion, welfare fraud and terrorism. AUSTRAC's head office is in Sydney, New South Wales.
Certain classes of financial services must be reported to AUSTRAC, in particular bank cash transactions (i.e. notes and coins) of $10,000 or more. AUSTRAC passes the information it collects on to law enforcement, revenue, regulatory, security and other agencies.
"Reporting entities" are required to report transactions to AUSTRAC. Transactions which must be reported are:
- Currency transactions of $10,000 or more, or foreign currency of that value.
- International funds transfer instructions, either into or out of Australia, of any amount.
- Suspicious transactions of any kind; being transactions the dealer may reasonably suspect of being part of tax evasion or crime, or might assist in a prosecution.
Members of the public are also obliged to report to AUSTRAC if they carry $10,000 or more (or equivalent in a foreign currency) of cash into or out of Australia, which can be done on forms available from the Border Force at airports and sea ports. The Border Force attempts to detect evasion of this requirement. Airlines are not held liable for what their passengers carry.
Cross-border movement of bearer negotiable instruments of any amount must also be reported if requested by a Border Force or police officer.
It's an offence under the Act for anyone to split a transaction into two or more parts with a dominant purpose of avoiding the reporting rules and thresholds.
Certain classes of transactions are exempt, or may be exempted on application. For example, established customers transacting amounts typical of their lawful business for payroll, or retail or vending machine takings, etc. Motor vehicle traders are specifically not in the retailers exemption, their transactions are not eligible for exemption (likewise boat, farm machinery and aircraft traders).
In 2014 AUSTRAC released a report Terrorism financing in Australia 2014 which says, "Terrorism financing poses a serious threat to Australians and Australian interests at home and abroad."
Reporting entities, specified in the AML/CTF Act, are required to report transactions to AUSTRAC. These entities deal in cash, bullion and financial transactions, and include:
- Banks and similar financial institutions such as building societies
- Insurance companies and intermediaries
- Securities dealers, such as stock brokers
- Unit trust managers and trustees (but cash management trusts transacting only by cheque or similar are exempt)
- Travelers cheque or money order issuers
- Cash carriers and payroll preparation businesses
- Bookmakers, including totaliser agencies
- Bullion dealers
- Solicitors, acting on their own behalf (e.g. their trust fund, or originated mortgages)
Reporting entities must identify their customers using the 100 point check system. Accounts may only be opened, but can only be operated (i.e., withdrawals made) by an identified customer; an unidentified customer is blocked from making withdrawals. Generally identification can be transferred from one account to another, so that for instance a person once identified does not need to produce documents again when opening a second account at the same institution.
For banks and similar reporting entities, identification requirements are determined by a risk-based approach, which may differ for each reporting entity.
It's an offence to open or operate an account with a reporting entity under a false name, punishable by a fine or up to 2 years imprisonment.
AUSTRAC communicates the information it gathers to a large number of other government agencies, including,
- Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
- State and territory revenue offices.
- Child Support Agency Australia (CSA)
- Australian Federal Police (AFP), and which may then communicate information to foreign law enforcement agencies, with appropriate undertakings.
- State and territory police services.
- Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)
- Australian Crime Commission
- Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)
- Australian Border Force
- Centrelink (added in 2004)
- State commissions and royal commissions against corruption,
- Foreign countries, with appropriate undertakings.
One prominent attempted evasion of the AUSTRAC rules took place ahead of the Dutch takeover of TNT (see TNT N.V.) in 1999. Simon Hannes was an executive at Macquarie Bank which was advising TNT, and he bought about $90,000 of TNT call options under the name "Mark Booth" to profit when the bid was announced. He was convicted of insider trading but also of two offences under the Financial Transactions Reports Act since he had made multiple cash withdrawals and deposits each just under the $10,000 threshold, apparently to avoid that reporting. His sentence for those transactions was 4 months jail.
In 2009, an investigation carried out by officers of AUSTRAC and other agencies, determined that funds were being sent from Australia, for use by the Somalia-based terrorist group, al-Shabaab. Money was remitted, with false names used to obscure the money trail. This investigation lead to the ultimate arrest of the suspects on charges of conspiring to commit a terrorist attack on an Australian army base.
In 2014, Australian authorities feared that money being transferred from Australia to Somalia could be used for terrorist purposes. In 2015, Australian banks ceased to provide money-transfer facilities to Somalia.
- Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988, at ComLaw
- AUSTRAC at a glance
- Freedom of Information Guidelines page at AUSTRAC web site
- "Terrorism financing in Australia 2014". AUSTRAC. 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- Simon Hannes sentenced: two and a half years jail, press release by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission on 13 December 2002
- R v Hannes (2002), Supreme Court of New South Wales report, at AustLII
- "Case studies - Remittance services (money transfers): Case 21 – Australian terror suspects sent funds to Somalia to support terrorist group". AUSTRAC. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- McGrath, Pat (17 October 2014). "Somali Australians plead with Westpac to not close remittance accounts". ABC News. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- Armitage, Laura (30 March 2015). "Westpac to stop Somali money transfers on March 31". Herald Sun. Retrieved 19 April 2015.