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2005-12-16 13:44:00
Embassy Asuncion
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161344Z Dec 05
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 ASUNCION 001515 



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 210691




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 210691

1. Paraguay is a principal money laundering center, involving
both the banking and non-banking financial sectors. The
multi-billion dollar contraband re-export trade that occurs
largely on the border shared with Argentina and Brazil
facilitates much of the money laundering in Paraguay.
Paraguay is a major drug-transit country. The Government of
Paraguay (GOP) suspects that proceeds from
narcotics-trafficking are often laundered, but is it
difficult to determine what percentage of laundered funds is
directly generated from narcotics sales. Weak controls in the
financial sector, an open border, and minimal enforcement
activity for financial crimes allow money launderers and
terrorist financiers to take advantage of Paraguay's
financial system. Although the Government of Paraguay (GOP)
has made some progress in 2005, it will need to pursue more
aggressive policies in 2006 in order to increase its
effectiveness in combating money laundering and terrorist

2. Paraguay is particularly vulnerable to money laundering,
as little personal background information is required to open
a bank account or to make financial transactions in Paraguay.
Paraguay is an attractive financial center for neighboring
countries, particularly Brazil. Foreign banks are registered
in Paraguay and nonresidents are allowed to hold bank
accounts, but current regulations forbid banks from
advertising or seeking deposits from outside the country.
Paraguay is not considered to be an offshore financial
center, but the GOP does allow representative offices of
offshore banks to maintain a presence in the country. Shell
companies are not permitted; trusts, however, are permitted
and are regulated by the Central Bank. Nominee directors
and/or trustees are not permitted. The Superintendent of
Banks audits financial institutions and supervises all banks
under the same rules and regulations. However, there are few
effective controls over businesses, and a large informal

economy exists outside the regulatory scope of the GOP.

3. Money laundering in Paraguay is facilitated by the
multi-billion dollar contraband re-export trade that occurs
largely in the Triborder Area shared by Paraguay, Argentina,
and Brazil. Ciudad del Este (CDE), on the border between
Brazil and Paraguay, represents the heart of Paraguay's
informal economy. The area is well known for arms and
narcotics-trafficking, as well as crimes against intellectual
property rights. A wide variety of counterfeit goods,
including cigarettes, CDs, DVDs, and computer software, are
imported from Asia and transported primarily across the
border into Brazil, with a significantly smaller amount
remaining in Paraguay for sale in the local economy. Some
senior government officials, including members of Congress,
have been accused of involvement in the smuggling of
contraband or pirated goods. To date there have been few
criminal investigations, much less prosecutions of senior GOP
officials involvement in smuggling contraband or pirated
goods). Government officials, in both Paraguay and the United
States, also suspect the area to be a source of terrorist
financing. Raids in CDE have led to the seizure of extremist
Islamic materials and receipts of wire transfers from
Paraguay to the Middle East and the United States. Paraguay
has taken some measures to tackle this "gray" economy and to
implement reforms that promote a transition to a more formal,
diversified economy.

4. In 2003, the GOP noted that it was trying to introduce
"maquilas" (assembly line industries). In 2005, the maquila
sector experienced rapid growth with 23 maquilas currently in
operation. The largest maquila, a synthetic rubber factory,
is Brazilian owned and located just outside of Ciudad del
Este. The company has invested USD $18 million into the
project, one of the largest foreign investments into the
Paraguayan economy. The GOP is trying to strengthen its
tourism industry by improving its tourism infrastructure,
including through efforts to make the international airport
in Asuncion a regional transportation hub for cargo and
possibly passenger airlines. The new customs code implemented
in early 2004 provided for the creation of formal free trade
zones. One zone currently exists in Ciudad del Este and
another is planned for the town of Villeta, near Asuncin.
Paraguay's Customs organization is responsible for monitoring
these zones, however there is little oversight. As a result,
the addition of free trade zones may provide additional
venues for money laundering.

5. There are no effective controls on the amount of currency
that can be brought into or out of Paraguay. Cross-border
reporting requirements are limited to those issued by
airlines at the time of entry into Paraguay. Persons
transporting USD $10,000 into or out of Paraguay are required
to file a customs report, but these reports are often not
actually collected or checked. Customs operations at the
airports or land ports of entry provide no control of the
cross-border movement of cash. The non-bank financial sector,
particularly exchange houses, are used to move illegal
proceeds both from within and outside of Paraguay into the
formal banking system of the United States. Most of these
funds move from Brazil through Ciudad del Este to the banking
sector. Paraguay exercises a dual monetary system in which
most high-priced goods are paid for in U.S. dollars. Large
sums of dollars generated from normal commercial activity and
suspected illicit commercial activity are transported
physically from Paraguay through Uruguay to the banking
centers in the United States.

6. Bank fraud, which has led to several bank failures, and
other financial crimes related to corruption are serious
problems in Paraguay. Following bank failures in 2002 and
2003, Paraguay continues to experience problems in the
banking industry. In 2004, Citibank decided to end its
participation in small-consumer banking in Paraguay, and
subsequently closed almost all of its branches nationwide.
The GOP continues to work with the U.S. Treasury and Justice
Departments to trace, account for, and return the missing USD
$16 million diverted from the Central Bank in 2002 to private
accounts allegedly linked to the family of former President
Luis Gonzalez Macchi.

7. Money laundering is a criminal offense under Paraguay's
two anti-money laundering statutes, Law 1015 of 1996 and
Article 196 of Paraguay's Criminal Code, adopted in 1997. The
existence of the two laws has led to substantial confusion
due to overlapping provisions. Under Article 196, the scope
of predicate offenses includes only offenses that carry a
maximum penalty of five years or more; Law 1015 includes
additional offenses. Article 196 also establishes a maximum
penalty of five years for money laundering offenses, while
Law 1015 carries a prison term of two to ten years. This is
particularly significant because, under the new Criminal Code
and Criminal Procedure Code, defendants who accept charges
that carry a maximum penalty of five years or less are
automatically entitled to a suspended sentence and a fine
instead of jail time, at least for the first offense. Since a
defendant cannot be charged with money laundering unless he
or she has first been convicted of the predicate offense,
many judges are apparently reluctant to prosecute any
defendant on money laundering charges because a sentence has
already been issued for a predicate offense.

8. Law 1015 of 1996 also contains "due diligence" and
"banker negligence" provisions and applies money laundering
controls to non-banking financial institutions, such as
exchange houses. Bank secrecy laws do not prevent banks and
financial institutions from disclosing information to bank
supervisors and law enforcement entities. Under Paraguay's
Commercial Law 1023 and its anti-money laundering statue Law
1015 of 1996, banks are required to keep account records on
hand for five years, but there is little government
enforcement of this regulation. Additionally, bankers and
others are protected under the anti-money laundering law with
respect to their cooperation with law enforcement agencies.

9. Additional provisions of Law 1015 require banks and
financial institutions to know and record the identity of
customers engaging in significant currency transactions and
to report those, as well as suspicious activities, to
Paraguay's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Financial
Analysis Unit (UAF). The UAF began operating in 1997 within
the Secretary for the Prevention of Money Laundering
(SEPRELAD), under the auspices of the Ministry of Industry
and Commerce (MIC). However, for many years the UAF had been
regarded as ineffective, and was hampered by a burdensome
bureaucratic structure, lack of financial support, and the
inability to keep trained personnel.

10. The UAF,s weaknesses were reflected in the small number
of cases presented to the Public Ministry (Attorney General's
office) for prosecution. Before 2001, only one case went to
trial, and it was dismissed on procedural grounds. The
majority of the cases prepared by the UAF were incomplete and
were returned to the UAF by prosecutors for more information
or investigation. Serious concerns also existed with regard
to UAF,s personnel, its handling of confidential
information, cumbersome record keeping, and concerns about
possible corruption within the FIU. Efforts were made to by
the GOP to improve its anti-money laundering capabilities,
and in 2003, existing personnel began to be vetted and
replaced as appropriate. U.S. law enforcement agencies and
GOP entities have increased information sharing over the past

11. The banking "Risk Control Division," created in 2003 to
replace the Superintendent of Banks, FIU, and eliminate its
duplicative function with the UAF, has the primary
responsibility of reviewing the records of national financial
institutions for suspected terrorist activity. The Risk
Control Division is empowered to coordinate information
exchange with the Central Banks of other MERCOSUR countries,
but has no authority to conduct investigative work associated
with financial suspicious activity reports. That remains the
purview of SEPRELAD,s Financial Analysis Unit. According to
SEPRELAD officials, cooperation between the UAF and the Risk
Control Division improved in 2005. In fact, the two groups
signed a MOU in October 2005, laying out the provisions for
increased cooperation. The MOU includes provisions for
SEPRELAD to issue regulations for the banking industry,
including the designation of a compliance officer, using
"due-diligence," and exerting "know your customer" policies.
The division currently is working on several important cases.

12. In 2005, SEPRELAD continued its efforts from 2004 to
improve the FIU,s personnel, analytical capabilities,
infrastructure, and technical capabilities. All FIU personnel
are vetted and receive significant analytical training.
Financial analysts received over 1000 suspicious activity
reports in 2005 and are eager and willing to provide support
to prosecutors and law enforcement agencies. Initially
reluctant to seek SEPRELAD,s assistance, most government
entities are increasingly prepared to work with SEPRELAD.
SEPRELAD continues to seek information-sharing agreements
with regional financial intelligence units, but has not
secured any agreements with Brazil or Argentina to date. In
2005, the FIU sought to strengthen its relationship with
other financial intelligence units following an unauthorized
disclosure of U.S. financial information by the GOP in 2001.
As a result information exchange between SEPRELAD and the
U.S. FIU (FINCEN) was suspended. In March 2005 SEPRELAD
re-established information sharing procedures with the U.S.
Financial Intelligence Unit.

13. In 2005, SEPRELAD coordinated an interagency money
laundering working group, whose members include the director
of the FIU, the director of the National Anti-Drug
Secretariat (SENAD), the assistant attorney general for

economic crimes, the director of the customs agency and a
criminal appellate judge. The FIU also increased its role in
regional and international anti-money laundering groups,
including the Egmont Group and the Financial Action Task
Force for South America (GAFISUD). The FIU,s director now
participates in the GAFISUD FIU Working Group and a committee
within the Egmont Group, further expanding Paraguay,s role
in these organizations. GAFISUD conducted its second mutual
evaluation of Paraguay in September 2005. The results of the
evaluation were shared during the organization's annual
plenary session held December 13-15 in Buenos Aires.
SEPRELAD officials believe that Paraguay will receive a
positive review despite little progress towards the passage
of a new anti-money laundering legislation in 2005.

14. The new law to improve the effectiveness of Paraguay,s
anti-money laundering regime, drafted in late 2003, was
formally introduced to Congress in May 2004, but it has not
yet come up for formal consideration. Draft legislation on
counterterrorism to address terrorist financing issues has
not yet been introduced to Congress.

15. The new money laundering legislation, if approved, will
institute important national reforms. In addition to
confirming the SEPRELAD,s role as the sole FIU, it
establishes SEPRELAD as an independent secretariat or agency
reporting directly to the Office of the President. The draft
law also establishes money laundering as an autonomous crime
punishable by a prison term of five to 20 years. It
establishes predicate offenses as any crimes that are
punishable by a prison term exceeding six months, and
specifically criminalizes money laundering tied to the
financing of terrorist groups or acts. The full range of
covered institutions will be required to report suspicious
transactions to the FIU and to maintain registries of large
currency transactions that equal or exceed $10,000. Under the
draft legislation, those institutions have been expanded to
include, inter alia, banks; financial institutions; insurance
agencies; currency exchange houses; securities companies and
brokers (stock exchange); investment companies; money
transmitters; administrators of mutual investment and pension
funds; credit unions; operators of gambling facilities; real
estate agencies; nongovernmental organizations; pawnshops;
and dealers in jewels, precious stones and metals,
automotives, art, and antiques. Other provisions of the draft
law include penalties for failure to file or falsify reports,
"know -your client provisions," and standardized record
keeping for a minimum of seven years. The FIU will continue
to refer cases as appropriate for further police (SENAD)
investigation and to the Attorney General's Office for
prosecution. It will also serve as the central entity for
related information exchanges with other concerned foreign
entities. The law further specifies that the investigative
unit of SENAD is the principal authority for carrying out all
counternarcotics and other financial investigations, and will
also have the authority to initiate investigation of cases on
its own.

16. There are other challenges, however, that the new money
laundering legislation, when passed, will not address. With
only eight positions for prosecutors dedicated to financial
crimes of which six are currently filled, Paraguay currently
has limited resources to investigate and prosecute money
laundering and financial crimes. Moreover, prosecutors have
little experience working with the FIU, and unless the new
law is enacted, most judges have little incentive to
investigate money laundering cases because many believe that
sentencing on predicate offenses is sufficient punishment.
Thus, there have not been any successful money laundering
prosecutions in Paraguay so far, and improvement is unlikely
until the new law becomes a reality. As it is, those
individuals implicated in money laundering are prosecuted on
tax evasion charges. In May 2004, Assad Barakat, widely
alleged to be involved in money laundering, was convicted of
tax evasion and sentenced to six and one-half years in
prison. In late 2004, prosecutors begin investigating several
tax evasion cases involving suspected money laundering by
both legal and illegal money exchange offices in Ciudad del
Este. A preliminary hearing is scheduled in December 2005,
for Kassem Hijazi, who is suspected of having laundered
proceeds from illicit activities in the tri-border area and
sending a portion of those funds to support Lebanese
Hizbollah activities.

17. Another serious problem for money laundering
investigations that will not be corrected by the new law is
the obligation of federal prosecutors to notify a suspect in
writing that he/she is the subject of an investigation.
Suspects must be notified within six months of the start of
an investigation, and may have access to all information
gathered through the investigation. This is mandated by
Paraguay,s penal code.

18. Under current laws, the GOP has limited authority to
freeze, seize, and/or forfeit assets of suspected money
launderers. In most cases, assets that the GOP is permitted
to freeze, seize, and/or forfeit are limited to transport
vehicles, such as planes and cars, and normally do not
include bank accounts. However, authorities may not auction
off these assets until a conviction is announced by the
judicial system. At best, the GOP can establish a
"preventative embargo" against assets of persons under
investigation for a crime in which the state risks loss of
revenue from furtherance of a criminal act, such as tax
evasion. However, in those cases the limit of the embargo is
set as the amount of liability of the suspect to the
government. As the government entity primarily responsible
for the tracing and seizing of assets, SENAD is required to
split the proceeds of the forfeiture with the Public
Ministry. SENAD currently has no figure for the amount of
assets seized and/or forfeited in 2005, as it does not place
a value on these assets before auction. Under current
provisions of the law, significant legal loopholes exist,
allowing criminals to hide their assets under another
person's name.

19. The new anti-money laundering legislation will, when
passed, allow prosecutors to recommend that judges freeze or
confiscate assets connected to money laundering and its
predicate offenses. The draft law also provides for the
creation of a special asset forfeiture fund to be
administered by a consortium of national governmental
agencies, which will support programs for crime prevention
and suppression, including combating money laundering, and
related training.

20. The GOP currently has no authority to freeze, seize,
and/or forfeit assets related to the financing of terrorism.
A recent attempt to freeze the assets of a suspected
terrorist financier for tax evasion failed because
prosecutors perceived that the Paraguayan constitution
prohibits the confiscation of personal property. The
financing of terrorism is not criminalized under current
Paraguayan law. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
often provides the Central Bank, SEPRELAD, and other
government entities with a list of groups or individuals
included on the UNSCR 1267 Sanctions Committee consolidated
list; to date, the GOP has not identified, seized, or
forfeited any such assets linked to these groups or
individuals. The current law also does not provide any
measures for thwarting the misuse of charitable or non-profit
entities that can be used as conduits for the financing of
terrorism. Following the submission of the draft anti-money
laundering law to Congress in May 2004, a working group of
GOP and U.S. officials began drafting legislation to address
terrorism and terrorist financing. The draft legislation will
allow the GOP to conform to international standards on the
suppression of terrorist financing. The draft anti-money
laundering legislation will also specifically criminalize
money laundering tied to the financing of terrorist groups or

21. The GOP ratified the UN International Convention for the
Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism in November 2004
and the Organization of American States Inter-American
Convention on Terrorism in January 2005. Paraguay has also
signed, but not ratified, the UN Convention against
Corruption. In September 2004, the GOP ratified the UN
Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Paraguay is
party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, and participates in
Summit of the Americas and Inter-American Drug Abuse Control
Commission (CICAD)-related meetings on money laundering.
Paraguay is a member of the South American Financial Action
Task Force (GAFISUD), the Egmont Group, and the "3 Plus 1"
Counter-Terrorism Dialogue between the United States and the
Triborder Area countries.

22. While the Government of Paraguay took a number of
positive steps in 2005, there are other initiatives that
should be pursued in 2006 to increase the effectiveness of
Paraguay,s efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist
financing. Most important is enactment of the new money
laundering law that meets international standards. Uneven
political support for the new money laundering law has
hindered its passage in Congress. Paraguay also needs to
continue efforts to combat corruption, and increase
information sharing among concerned agencies when and if
corruption issues are involved. Paraguay does not have a
counterterrorism law or a law criminalizing terrorist
financing. While the new money laundering law would increase
the Government of Paraguay,s abilities to combat terrorist
financing, it should also take steps as quickly as possible
to ensure that comprehensive counterterrorism legislation is
passed. Reforms to the criminal procedure code that would
allow prosecutors to carry out long-term criminal
investigations are also needed. Reforms to the customs agency
are also necessary in order to allow for increased
inspections and interdictions at ports of entry and to
develop strategies targeting the physical movement of bulk
cash. It is essential that SEPRELAD,s Financial Analysis
Unit continue to receive the financial and human resources
necessary to operate as an effective, fully functioning
financial intelligence unit capable of effectively combating
money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial