Child advocate axes bank in disgust over 'exploitation'
GOLD Coast based child protection advocates Bravehearts are cutting ties with Westpac after allegations it breached anti-money laundering laws resulting in possible child exploitation.
In a statement this morning, Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston said she was disgusted by claims Braveheart's major banking partner allegedly repeatedly ignored obligations to innocent children.
Financing regulator AUSTRAC has launched action against the organisation for more than 23 million alleged breaches of law.
It includes the bank allowing suspected paedophiles to allegedly use its services to make thousands of transactions despite senior management being briefed as far back as 2016 on risks linked to payments that could involve child exploitation.
"Over 3000 transactions translates to over 3000 occasions where a child endured unimaginable, yet preventable, sexual and physical trauma while seemingly Westpac didn't care enough to undertake their regulatory oversight," Ms Johnston said.
"Just when you think you've heard it all, along comes a bank apparently so nonchalant, indifferent and negligent that they knowingly ignore organised and savage sexual attacks against children.
"The Royal Commission into child sex abuse has shown what happens when powerful organisations turn the other cheek and Westpac appears to have done just that in its relentless pursuit of profit.
"It's hard to find the words to describe how horrified we are by such claims.
"There are rules and regulations in place so this doesn't happen but it seems Westpac has opted to ignore them. Every organisation has to take responsibility for protecting our children and if Westpac hasn't been doing that, we simply can't keep banking with them."
AUSTRAC CEO Nicole Rose yesterday said the major lender didn't report more than 19.5 million international fund transfers over five years.
"Westpac failed to pass on information about the origin of international funds transfers and keep records as required," she said.
According to an application filed by the agency to the Federal Court of Australia, Westpac allegedly failed to assess ongoing money terrorism financing risks related to the movement of money, pass on information about the source of funds and keep records relating to the origin of some of the international transfers.
AUSTRAC also alleged that part of the more than 23 million contraventions included a failure to carry out due diligence on transactions to the Philippines and South East Asia where child exploitation risks are rife.
"Westpac failed to introduce appropriate detection scenarios to detect known child exploitation typologies, consistent with AUSTRAC guidance and their own risk assessments," the application noted.
Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer said he recognised the allegations were "serious and important".
"These issues should never have occurred and should have been identified and rectified sooner," he said in a statement. "It is disappointing that we have not met our own standards as well as regulatory expectations and requirements."