24 Apr 2018
An Australian inquiry into financial sector misconduct claimed its first scalp on Friday as the CEO of the country’s largest wealth manager stepped down over revelations of board-level deception and misappropriation of funds.
The departure of AMP Ltd’s (AMP.AX) Craig Meller came as the government vowed to double prison terms for financial crimes, dramatically increase penalties and ramp up the investigative powers of the corporate regulator following shocking admissions of misconduct to the Royal Commission inquiry.
Not only has the start of the year-long inquiry been a publicity disaster for Australia’s major lenders, it has also put the conservative government – which had initially opposed a commission despite years of scandals including rate-rigging and alleged money-laundering – in a tight spot.
Faced with daily revelations of wrongdoing at the highest levels of corporate Australia, the government is now under mounting pressure to extend the inquiry beyond its February 2019 deadline, meaning it would run concurrently with the next federal election.
Treasurer Scott Morrison, who once dismissed opposition calls for a Royal Commission as “crass populism”, on Friday said the government would raise criminal penalties for corporate crimes to a maximum of 10 years in jail, from 5 years currently.
Offending companies would face fines up to A$210 million ($162 million), versus A$10 million now. Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) would get the power to intercept internal communications of companies if necessary, Morrison said.
“They are not victimless crimes,” Morrison told a press conference. “We need to set the tone … so people understand that misleading regulators about serious issues such as this is no victimless offence, and it won’t carry a victimless penalty.”
The changes were the result of years of planning and were not a knee-jerk reaction to the inquiry, he said.
AMP executives admitted in testimony this week that the company had lied to the corporate watchdog for almost a decade to cover a practice of charging customers for services it did not provide.
– Reuers, 19 April 2018
Link to Reuters article.
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