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Crypto Bill threatens anti-money laundering efforts: Ora Partners

Friday 26 April 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Economy, National, Parliament, Technology

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Crypto Bill threatens anti-money laundering efforts: Ora Partners
Ora Partners chief executive Puai Wichman. Ora Partners/24042521

While serious concerns over the integrity of the Tainted Cryptocurrency Recovery Bill 2023 remain, “witnessing the wheels of our democracy at play during the select committee hearing was an awe-inspiring experience”, says Puai Wichman.

However, the chief executive officer of Ora Partners, a Cook Islands wealth management firm that offers asset protection, investment portfolio diversification, and consulting services, has raised alarms over the proposed bill. 

The bill was tabled in Parliament in December last year and referred to a special select committee. It has been reported that Drumcliffe, a US-based high-value debt collector specialising in international asset seizure, hired two Cook Islands lawyers to draft this legislation which, if approved in present form, could validate hacking into any account or system in the world.

Cook Islands Crown Law Office previously stated they were not consulted and excluded from the drafting of the bill. However, this was denied by one of the lawyers hired to draft the legislation, who claimed they made efforts to consult but were unsuccessful.

In a statement, Ora Partners said although the proposed piece of legislation has raised eyebrows both in the Cook Islands and internationally, the select committee hearing held on Friday, April 12, “showcased the devotion and diligence of civically engaged citizens who care about the future and reputation of the Cook Islands”.

“I was privileged to see highly competent Cook Islanders working in various Crown agencies of the Cook Islands, including Crown Law, make highly persuasive and objective submissions, essentially telling the promoters of this Bill that they did not approve. I was really impressed with the high calibre submissions. It reassures me that we have good people in government, who can stand up when our national interest is at stake,” Wichman said.

It is no accident that the Cook Islands is seen as the gold standard for asset protection trusts, a reputation built on the back of highly qualified and competent Cook Islanders, who have worked tirelessly over the last 40 years to build a trustworthy industry, says Ora Partners.

“That legacy continues today with Cook Islanders speaking up and raising concerns over a piece of legislation authored by a private US corporation that does not align with industry ethics and standards.”

The Cook Islands is well-known for fulfilling its commitments to fight tax evasion, money laundering, and financing of terrorism.

“Meeting our responsibilities as a good international citizen is critical to the integrity of the Cook Islands and this Bill falls short on those criteria,” Wichman says.

“We cannot harm our international standing in the area of anti-money laundering, so we must first consult with international partners such as the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Financial Action Task Force.

“We have worked incredibly hard to gain recognition for our efforts in this space. This bill must not be allowed to jeopardise that.”

While the process by which the Tainted Cryptocurrency Recovery Bill was drafted, vetted, and introduced remains troubling, industry professionals are encouraged by the careful attention and assertiveness of various players in both the public and private sectors in the Cook Islands, the statement adds.

“Still there are concerns about how the bill progressed as far as it did and about its content, which suggests a geopolitical agenda.”

Wichman says Ora Partners and other trust companies in the Cook Islands will continue to monitor the progression of the Tainted Cryptocurrency Recovery Bill and other finance-related legislation and will continue to demand integrity and transparency from decision-makers.

“We have the competence and capability to sort this matter out on our own,” he says. “We have a solid parliamentary system, and the rule of law is paramount.”