Australia’s second-biggest bank, Westpac, is poised to overtake the Commonwealth Bank. Not in terms of assets, earnings or market capitalisation, but in having to pay the heftiest fine in Australian corporate history.
It is accused of breaching laws aimed at hindering criminal money laundering and the financing of terrorism. With some of those breaches involving supicious transactions in South-East Asia, it is alleged Westpac has potentially facilitated the most heinous of crimes – the commerce of child sex abuse.
Each breach carries a penalty of up to A$63,000. Westpac is accused of 23 million breaches.
That means it could potentially be fined more than A$1 trillion. The actual fine is likely to be bargained down, as Commonwealth Bank did in agreeing to pay A$700 million in 2018 for its own breaches of anti-money-laundering provisions.
Even so, Westpac is still likely to be up for more than A$1 billion.
So what exactly is it accused of doing wrong, and what should it have done? Here’s a quick guide to how Australia’s anti-money-laundering laws work.