The Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) has announced new regulations for the opening of Thai bank accounts in a bid to reduce financial crime conducted by foreigners. There have recently been several prominent arrests of foreigners accused of money laundering and currency fraud. From next month Thai banks will be instructed to check more carefully the background and identities of aliens wanting to open an account in the Kingdom.
Currently, the only documentation required is a photocopy of the alien’s passport and, in some cases, a certificate obtained from the immigration bureau to confirm their address. The minimum deposit to open an account varies from bank to bank but can be as low as 500 baht. The account is then activated immediately without a pre-screening process.
Police Colonel Seehanat Prayoonrat, chief of AMLO, said that in the future banks will be required to question applicants as to their reasons for wishing to open an account.
Justifiable reasons might include sending cash from overseas to purchase a condo, supporting a Thai family or being based in Thailand for living or working. He added that accounts registered by a proxy would be closed immediately. “In future, applicants need to show more documents as proof,” the colonel explained.
No definitive list of additional documents has yet been issued, but are likely to include a work permit or a one-year visa. Aliens might also be asked to provide proof of their residence address in their first country. Ongoing checks will be made to verify whether the amounts being deposited and withdrawn fit the background profile and income of the applicant. For example, foreigners claiming to be students yet holding accounts of millions of baht would be suspect. Thailand is believed to be a high-risk country for money laundering which can fund terrorism.
Financial experts say that banks are likely to react in different ways to the new regulations. Some might restrict new alien accounts to those holding a work permit whilst others will want documentation additional to the passport and the immigration certificate. Others might even require police clearance from the home country. Existing accounts will not normally be affected although they may be monitored more thoroughly for unusual transactions, deposits and withdrawals.
Police Colonel Seehanat said that the new rules were proof of Thailand’s commitment to tackling money laundering acts. A spokesman for AMLO added that foreigners wanting to open a bank account would need a personal file providing proof of their lawful intentions as well as an interview with bank officials. He commented that some dubious bank accounts in the past have been opened by tourists visiting for less than three months.