Monaco, Estonia and Luxembourg are the fastest growing destinations for Australian cash, accounting for just thousands of dollars in 2010 but with transfers to the three locations now totalling millions.
Anti-money-laundering agency Austrac has released the annual totals of international funds transfers for each country under freedom of information legislation. The figures show Estonia had just $77,500 sent from Australian accounts in 2010 but the figure rose to $8.9 million this year — an 11,444 per cent increase.
The small principality of Monaco recorded the steepest increase in funds transfers in the past six years though the totals were less significant — from $3347 in 2010 to $1.6m in 2016.
Todd Harland, a former Austrac intelligence manager who is now the managing director of anti-money-laundering consultancy AML Solutions International, said the increase in funds moving from Australia to Estonia should be examined.
The obscure former Soviet republic, with a population of just 1.3 million, has seen exports fall and there has been little apparent growth in real investment into the country.
In the 2011 census, 8550 people in Australia said they had Estonian ancestry.
“Why there’s a massive, massive jump like that, there’s definitely a question there that needs to be looked at,” Mr Harland said.
“The purpose of financial intelligence is to provide triggers. If anything, that (increase) is a trigger for a question.”
Austrac would not comment yesterday.
In the same six-year period, China overtook the US as Australia’s top destination for funds transfers, accounting for $1.3 billion in transfer requests this year.
The US had just $400m sent to it from Australian bank accounts this year — 70 per cent less than the $1.3bn recorded in 2010 — placing it behind China, The Philippines, Britain and India in terms of total funds transfers.
This partly reflects census figures on people’s country of birth that show England, New Zealand, China and India as accounting for the greatest proportion of non-Australian-born respondents in 2011.
Although transfers to Luxembourg, widely recognised as a tax haven, increased from $40,000 in 2010 to $3.7m this year, the figures are dwarfed by other countries with high levels of bank secrecy or low tax rates.
Nearly $75m was transferred to Singapore this year, down from $192m last year and $205m in 2014.
Switzerland, which in recent years has relaxed some of its bank privacy laws, has also seen a dramatic fall in transfers from Australia. In 2012, there was $46m in funds transferred to the central European country. This year, just $17m was sent.
It is unknown how many transactions have been referred to law enforcement agencies.
In its most recent annual report, Austrac said it had received 78,846 “suspicious matter reports” from financial institutions and other entities last financial year, with a 7 per cent increase in the number of those linked to potential terrorism financing in 2014-15.
The total amount of funds going overseas has risen steadily at about 5 per cent a year.
Austrac signed memorandums of understanding with Bangladesh, Ghana, Luxembourg, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Montenegro last financial year.
It has an existing MOU with Estonia.
The agency has been expanding its “footprint” overseas, particularly in Southeast Asia, and in Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Source: The Australian