Austrac’s proceedings in the Federal Court against Westpac over alleged breahes of anti-money laundering law have not progressed since the regulator took the matter to court last November but the first shareholder class action over the issue had been filed.
New York-based Rosen Law Firm announced that it has filed a class action claim in the United States District Court on behalf of Westpac shareholders who bought shares between November 2015 and November 2019, seeking damages relating to the bank’s money laundering breaches.
Last November, Austrac announced that it had applied to the Federal Court for civil penalty orders against Westpac after finding that there was systemic non-compliance with the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.
Austrac alleged that Westpac contravened the Act on more than 23 million occasions.
Austrac’s most damning accusation was that the bank failed to carry out appropriate due diligence on transactions to the Philippines and South East Asia that had known financial indicators relating to potential child exploitation risks.
Westpac self-reported its failure to report a large number of international funds transfer instructions, acknowledging that “these issues should never have occurred.” The bank’s board issued an apology.
Rosen claims that Westpac made false and misleading statements or failed to disclose in relation to several matters, including:
- it failed to report more than 19.5 million international funds transfer instructions to Austrac.
- Westpac did not appropriately monitor and assess its ongoing money laundering and terrorism financing risks associated with the movement of money into out of Australia.
- the bank did not pass on requisite information about the source of funds to other banks in the transfer chain;
- despite being aware of the risks, the bank did not carry out appropriate due diligence on transactions on South East Asia and the Philippines that had known financial indicators relating to child exploitation risks;
- The bank’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing program was inadequate to identify, mitigate and manage the risk involved.
It claims that as a result of all these alleged failings, the bank’s statements about its business, operations and prospects were materially false and misleading.
The complaint names Westpac, its former chief executive Brian Hartzer and current chief executive Peter King as defendants.