Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Up to Westpac to weigh CEO's future amid money-laundering scandal, Australian PM says

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday it was up to the board of Westpac Banking Corp (AX:WBC) to decide whether Chief Executive Brian Hartzer should resign in the wake of Australia's biggest money laundering scandal.

Financial crime watchdog AUSTRAC began legal action on Wednesday, accusing Westpac of 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering laws and seeking fines of up to A$21 million ($14 million) for every transaction Australia's second largest bank failed to monitor adequately or report on time.

The allegations included money transfers involving child exploitation.

Hartzer said he accepted most of the regulator's assertions but "at a senior executive level, for the board, for me personally, in no way have we been indifferent on this."

Morrison said it was not up to the government to decide whether Hartzer should resign.

"These are things that the board and the management need to determine themselves," Morrison said in an interview on Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

"But they should be taking this very seriously, reflecting on it very deeply and taking the appropriate decisions for the protection of people's interests in Australia - their safety," Morrison said.

"These are some very disturbing, very disturbing transactions involving despicable behavior," he added.

Hartzer on Wednesday said he had been "disgusted and appalled" by AUSTRAC's specific allegations and vowed to "get to the bottom of why this was able to persist".

Westpac had self-reported the breaches to AUSTRAC and had since shut down the service at the center of the complaint which let customers and affiliate overseas banks process payments from Australia.

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