Red flagged by the bank

One Su­danese Kiwi found her­self trapped by tougher money laun­der­ing rules when she tried to open an ac­count

Sunday Star-Times - - BUSINESS - by Rob Stock

ANew Zealand woman born in Su­dan, was left feel­ing racially pro­filed af­ter she went to ASB to open a bank ac­count.

Afaf Amir took her New Zealand pass­port along as iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to the Al­bany Mall branch to open an ac­count.

Her hus­band and four of her chil­dren have ac­counts with the bank, but af­ter leav­ing the branch, Amir heard her name be­ing called as she walked through the Mall.

She was be­ing chased by an ASB teller, who sum­moned her back to the branch to be told the ac­count she’d opened would be closed, un­less she could pro­duce proof of where her ‘‘wealth’’ came from.

Heads turned. She felt like a crim­i­nal be­ing chased for sus­pected shoplift­ing.

‘‘It was un­pro­fes­sional. She’s run­ning to catch up to me, shout­ing my name.’’

In the branch, she said she was told she needed to pro­duce proof of in­come.

‘‘I told them I’m a house­wife. I said I’m a New Zealand cit­i­zen. I have lived here for 15 years, and I have my pass­port. She said it didn’t mat­ter.’’

She and her hus­band qual­i­fied to come to New Zealand in 2002 as skilled mi­grants.

Amir asked to speak to the man­ager. He told her the re­quire­ment was be­cause she was from Su­dan.

She told him: ’’I don’t have a Su­danese pass­port. I said I was born there, but I am a New Zealan­der. He ig­nored my talk­ing.’’

And that’s where it ended, un­til her son men­tioned her ex­pe­ri­ence to his boss Sam Stubbs at low-cost Ki­wiSaver provider Sim­plic­ity, who in turn con­tacted Sun­day Star-Times.

Amir felt she had been dis­crim­i­nated against, and racially pro­filed.

Others have shared her ex­pe­ri­ence, she says, and the fam­ily is now con­sid­er­ing mov­ing from ASB to another bank, per­haps ANZ, where Amir cur­rently has an ac­count.

Banks are re­quired by law to have sys­tems in place to pre­vent them be­ing used for money laun­der­ing and the fi­nanc­ing of ter­ror­ism, known col­lec­tively as anti-money laun­der­ing (AML) pro­cesses.

Part of ASB’s is a ‘‘red flag’’ sys­tem, that alerts staff to seek more in­for­ma­tion from peo­ple with cer­tain na­tion­al­i­ties, even if they also have New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship.

Banks don’t pub­lish lists of red flagged coun­tries, but Su­dan is listed as an ‘‘ex­treme risk’’ by the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade.

‘‘There is a gen­eral threat of ter­ror­ism in Su­dan, in­clud­ing in Khar­toum,’’ the Min­istry says. ‘‘Ter­ror­ist at­tacks could be in­dis­crim­i­nate, in­clud­ing in places fre­quented by west­ern­ers. ‘‘

ASB’s Ge­orgina Bond said: ‘‘Un­der AML, some coun­tries do present a pos­si­bil­ity of height­ened risk, for ex­am­ple, ter­ror­ism and money laun­der­ing, and they cause flags to be raised for the bank.

‘‘In these in­stances, the bank is re­quired to also ob­tain, and ver­ify in writ­ing, in­for­ma­tion about the source of the cus­tomer’s wealth/in­come.’’

‘‘We un­der­stand in some in­stances, AML re­quire­ments do cre­ate ad­di­tional pro­cesses for cus­tomers. If a cus­tomer finds them­selves in a po­si­tion where ad­di­tional ver­i­fi­ca­tion is re­quired, and they have any con­cerns about what they are be­ing asked to pro­vide, we en­cour­age them to con­tact us and we will be happy to talk them through the process and help reach a so­lu­tion.’’

Abann Yor, gen­eral man­ager of the Auck­land Re­set­tled Com­mu­nity Coali­tion, said: ‘‘There’s a dif­fer­ence between a coun­try and an in­di­vid­ual.’’

An ac­ci­dent of birth should not pre­vent some­one with New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship open­ing a bank ac­count, he said.

The bank is stand­ing by its re­quest for more in­for­ma­tion, but said: ‘‘We sin­cerely apol­o­gise that the ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion was not iden­ti­fied and sought from Afaf while she was in the branch, and for any em­bar­rass­ment caused when the branch mem­ber ap­proached her out­side the branch.‘‘

‘‘Although we can’t com­ment about the bank­ing ar­range­ments for her hus­band and chil­dren, if they be­came cus­tomers be­fore 2013, when anti-money laun­der­ing (leg­is­la­tion) came into ef­fect, they may not have been asked for the same in­for­ma­tion.’’

There’s great sen­si­tiv­ity about money laun­der­ing in the banks af­ter it was re­vealed how poor their Aus­tralian par­ent com­pa­nies have been at it. New de­tails of po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­veal the big four banks – West­pac, ANZ, NAB and CBA – have all been used to laun­der drug money.

And ASB’s par­ent com­pany CBA, is fight­ing al­le­ga­tions of se­ri­ous fail­ure to pre­vent crim­i­nals from laun­der­ing money through it.

Peo­ple who feel they’ve been treated harshly can com­plain to the Bank­ing Om­buds­man.

Spokesper­son Tina Mitchell said: ‘‘The Bank­ing Om­buds­man can, and does, look into com­plaints about how the banks ap­proach the an­ti­money laun­der­ing leg­is­la­tion.’’

CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF

Afaf Amir, a New Zealand cit­i­zen who was born in Su­dan, feels open­ing a bank ac­count should be as easy for her as any other New Zealan­der.

ASB, like all banks, does anti-money laun­der­ing checks on cus­tomers.

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