COMMONWEALTH BANK FACES RECORD FINES

Australia’s largest bank is facing staggering allegations it has breached money-laundering and ­terrorism-­financing laws tens of thousands of times. In what it describes as “serious and systemic non-compliance” the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (or AUSTRAC) alleges the Commonwealth bank failed to monitor suspicious accounts (despite several warnings from the Australian Federal Police), allowed criminal gangs to launder tens of millions of dollars through its ATMs, failed to ­report tens of thousands of ­transactions worth more than $10,000 (the threshold at which they must be reported) and, on six occasions, did not report customers it believed to be funding terrorism quickly enough.

All told, AUSTRAC alleges CBA breached the relevant laws over 53,000 times. The Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act contains the highest fines corporate bodies can face in Australia. Each contravention carries with it a fine of up to $18 million, meaning these allegations could result in a fine that dwarfs the previous record of $45 million handed down against Tabcorp in March.

John Durie writing in The Australian says the fines are “nothing compared to the questions raised about the bank’s reputation and integrity”, but the potential $960 billion fine might present a more immediate concern to CEO Ian Narev.

“It is essential to the integrity of the Australian financial system that a major bank such as  CommBank  has compliant and appropriate risk-based systems and controls in place to deter money laundering and terrorism financing,” the statement from Austrac said.

“The effect of CommBank’s conduct in this matter has exposed the Australian community to serious and ongoing financial crime.”

The revelations — which Colin Kruger notes in CBD will introduce the wider public to phrases such as “cuckoo smurfing” — will also surely do nothing to quieten growing calls for a royal commission into the banks.

TWO FACE CHARGES IN SYDNEY TERROR PLOT

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Khaled Khayat and Mahmoud Khayat have both been charged by the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team with two counts each of acts done in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act — charges that carry a maximum penalty of life in jail.

The pair were among four men arrested for  alleged “sophisticated and elaborate” plot to use a homemade bomb disguised as a kitchen mincer to bring down a commercial plane bound for Abu Dhabi. Of the other two arrested, Khaled Merhi remains in custody, and his brother Abdul Merhi was released without charge on Tuesday.

Fairfax is reporting today on further details of the plot, revealing just how close it was to being successful. According to the report, the improvised device got as far Sydney Airport’s international terminal inside a piece of luggage, before the passenger was told the bag was too heavy.

CRICKET DEAL STRUCK

The long and at times bitter dispute between Australia’s cricketers and the game’s administrators has finally drawn to a close, and it appears that the players won by an innings. They got backpay (despite being told they wouldn’t), they retain revenue sharing (rather than profit sharing) and female players got what the players union described as the “biggest pay rise in the history of women’s sport in Australia”.

The contrasting responses perhaps illustrated something: embattled Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland insisted that neither side really got what they wanted, while Australian cricket captain Steve Smith put out a happy series of tweets: “Great to get a deal done! It’s been a long and challenging process and it’s great that we can now get on with playing the game that we all love, I’d like to thank the ACA for negotiating on behalf of the players and I’m excited that we can all start working together to continue to grow our great game. I look forward to Bangladesh, India and an exciting summer of Ashes cricket.”

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Rockhampton: Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to meet with federal Nationals MPs to discuss same-sex marriage and other issues.

Nhulunbuy: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten are expected to attend the Garma Festival, an Indigenous cultural, political and business forum held in north-east Arnhem Land. 

Brisbane: Former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale is in court on two charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice. 

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Liberals fast-track same-sex marriage showdown

Record-breaking cocaine haul destined for Australia seized by French Navy

‘They should be gone’: Police, government plan to dismantle Martin Place camp

THE COMMENTARIAT

Trump-Turnbull transcript shows call was one of PM’s finest moments — Cameron Stewart (The Australian $): “The prime minister secured the deal Australia was looking for in the most trying of circumstances using nothing but calm logic and rational explanation. For that he should be congratulated.”

A useless bunch of indulgent politicians who deserve to be turfed — Laura Tingle (Australian Financial Review $): “If you really do have to change your prime minister, you do it because you have a better option who can improve your standing with voters. The Coalition doesn’t have one.”

Same-sex marriage a fatal distraction to Turnbull government — Sharri Markson (The Daily Telegraph $): “The Right have made it clear that if Turnbull doesn’t come out swinging against the idea of a free vote on gay marriage, they will call a spill motion and his leadership will be in jeopardy.”

PM’s future depends on issue that won’t go away — Simon Benson (The Australian $): “The potential damage to Turnbull is great. Even if it gets as far as a vote on a bill, the debate on the issue will likely immobilise the government for the entire first sitting week following the return from the winter break — and possibly the second.”

TRUMP TO TURNBULL: YOU’RE WORSE THAN I AM

Details of the already partially leaked January phone call between Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump have now been spilled in full, with The Washington Post receiving a complete transcript that shows the pair haggling over the Australia-US refugee deal.

When Turnbull tries to explain Australia’s refugee policies to Trump, the US president responds: “That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.”

In the conversation, Turnbull tries to convince Trump not to jettison the deal, calls the people on Manus and Nauru “economic refugees”, and promises Trump, “You can count on me. I will be there again and again.” He also tells the US President that Australia is prepared to take “not very attractive” refugees as long as they did not arrive by boat.

“So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat,” the Australian PM declares.

NUMBER TO REMEMBER: 222,000,000

That’s how many euros French club PSG has paid Spanish football giant Barcelona to lure away prize striker Neymar. The deal obliterates previous transfer records and may yet provoke legal headaches for the clubs. The 25-year-old Brazilian star is set to pocket 865,000 euros a week at his new club.

THE WORLD

The Special Counsel investigation of Donald Trump’s campaign has stepped up a notch, with special counsel Robert Mueller summoning a grand jury. While this does not mean charges will be laid, it is a necessary step that Mueller would have to take if that were to happen. — Wall Street Journal

The man who helped stop a global ransomware attack in its tracks has been arrested by the FBI for allegedly taking part in a separate fraud. Marcus Hutchins found the “kill switch” during the so-called WannaCry attack in May but is now under arrest in the US. — Reuters

WHAT WE’RE READING

Is the New York Times vs the Washington Post vs Trump the last great newspaper war? (Vanity Fair): “Two revived bastions of Old Media are engaged in a duel that resembles the World War II rivalry of American general George S. Patton and British general Sir Bernard Montgomery as they scrambled to be first to capture Messina. There is a sense, too, that something fundamental about the nation is at stake.”

Sadiq Khan takes on Brexit and terror (The New Yorker): “Khan describes his political awakening as a processing of the injustices that he saw in his daily life: his brothers’ friends being stopped and searched by the police; the Wandsworth bus garage, where his father worked, threatened with closure; his teachers on picket lines.”

An NSC staffer is forced out over a controversial memo (The Atlantic): “Higgins’s memo describes supposed domestic and international threats to Trump’s presidency, including globalists, bankers, the “deep state,” and Islamists. The memo characterizes the Russia story as a plot to sabotage Trump’s nationalist agenda. It asserts that globalists and Islamists are seeking to destroy America. “

Ping pong fury (Chublic Opinion): “The deceitfully tiny plastic ball of Ping Pong carries a symbolic weight in China that seems to defy the gravity of politics as usual. On the one hand is the public’s intense disdain for the so-called central planning sports system (‘juguotizhi’), a gold-medal churning machinery that focuses the entire country’s public sports resources on a selected group of elite athletes; on the other is their profound affection for Olympic champions and the immense emotional investment in the idea of winning.” 

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

 

Peter Fray

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