Money laundering revamp threatens South African partners with prison

South African firms are fearing the effects of tough new money laundering legislation, which could see advisers imprisoned for up to 15 years or fined up to R10m (£789,500) if they fail to correctly verify a client's identity or report a dodgy transaction to the authorities.

The Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) was introduced in 2001, but legislation in relation to 'know your client' rules only took effect at the beginning of this month.

Under Fica, advisers must verify the identity of clients; retain records of business relations and transactions for at least five years; report suspicious transactions; and implement internal rules to make sure such obligations are carried out.

If an adviser is convicted of failing to verify the identity of a client, retain records and report, the penalty imposed will be a fine of up to R10m or imprisonment of up to 15 years. The failure to formulate and implement internal rules is also an offence, and on conviction advisers are liable for imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of up to R1m (£79,000).

“They [the rules] will have a huge effect on business,” said Derryn Pearson, an attorney at South African firm Cliffe Dekker. “The penalties are so huge that any credible institutions wouldn't want to risk it.”