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Property Laundering (WA)

Money laundering is an act or acts that conceal the fact that money is the proceeds of crime. In Western Australia it is called property laundering and the offence is contained in the Criminal Code Act 1913.

The offence of property laundering

The Act states a person commits an offence if they:

  • engage, directly or indirectly, in a transaction that involves proceeds of crime; or
  • bring into the state or receive, possess, conceal, dispose of or deal with proceeds of crime in the state.

“Deals with” means receive, possess, control, conceal or attempt to conceal, pass on or otherwise dispose of money or other property that is the proceeds of crime.

The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment.

The Act also makes it an offence to deal with money or other property that is being used or is intended to be used to commit a crime. The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment. A person can be convicted whether or not:

  • they take part in the crime;
  • the offender is identified;
  • anyone is charged with or convicted of the crime;
  • the offence is subsequently committed.

Examples of property laundering

Property laundering is a diverse activity that involves hiding, disguising or legitimising the origin of money used in or derived from criminal activity. It commonly takes place in 3 stages:

  1. the placement of funds generated by crime into the financial system;
  2. the separation of the funds from the source to avoid detection;
  3. the laundering of the funds back into the community to make the funds appear legitimate.

Examples include

  • splitting cash between bank accounts or making multiple deposits;
  • shifting money via multiple transactions over a short period of time;
  • shifting cash through a casino;
  • channelling money through illegitimate businesses or “shell” companies (inactive businesses created to hide genuine business ownership);
  • swapping shares in a company for shares in another company without a change in legal ownership.

Property laundering cases

In February 2021, the Gaming and Wagering Commission of WA launched an inquiry into allegations of property laundering by casino operator Crown Resorts at its Perth casino. The move came after a NSW inquiry looked into massive amounts of money being funnelled through the Perth casino and others by Asian high-roller junkets linked to organised crime. The findings were expected late that year.

In April 2021, WA Police discovered $1 million in cash at a Perth cemetery. Two men were arrested after a raid of a home which allegedly uncovered 200g of methylamphetamine. The men were charged with property laundering and drug offences.

In May 2021, WA Police seized almost $700,000 in cash from a car in a freight yard outside Perth. The car was destined for Sydney and the money had been concealed inside a car’s spare tyre. A suspect was charged with property laundering.

Defences to property laundering

A person can contest a property laundering charge by arguing, for instance, that:

  • they did not know, did not believe or suspect, or did not have reasonable grounds to believe or suspect that the money was the proceeds of crime;
  • they did not receive, possess, conceal or dispose of the property;
  • the property did not originate from a crime;
  • they were acting under duress;
  • by dealing with the proceeds of crime, they were helping to enforce a law of the Commonwealth or a state or territory.

Commonwealth legislation

The Criminal Code Act 1995 and the Anti-Money Laundering And Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 both contain money-laundering offences.

Criminal Code Act 1995

This Act states a person commits an offence if the person deals with money or other property, and either:

  • the money or property is, and the person believes it to be, proceeds of crime; or
  • the person intends that the money or property will be used to commit a crime.

The penalties range from imprisonment for 25 years or a fine of 1500 penalty units ($333,000), or both, for the most serious offences, to a fine of 10 penalty units ($2200) for the least serious.

Anti-Money Laundering And Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006

This Act contains offences used to prosecute money laundering, in particular:

  • sections 53 and 55: movement of physical currency in and out of Australia;
  • sections 136-141: providing false information, using false documents or using a false customer name;
  • sections 142-143: conducting transactions to avoid reporting requirements.

For these offences the penalties range from imprisonment for 10 years or a fine of 10,000 penalty units ($2,220,000), or both, for the most serious offences, to imprisonment for 2 years, or 120 penalty units ($26,540), or both, for the least serious.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Sally Crosswell

This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

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