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Debate on the legislation to combat the illicit lottery scam opened in the Senate on Friday, March 15. It will continue on March 21.

The Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act specifically targets that criminal activity and other related fraudulent actions. It was passed in the House of Representatives last week.

The lottery scam, centred primarily in western Jamaica, causes significant financial loss and emotional trauma to unsuspecting victims who are mainly elderly persons living overseas.

[RELATED: Lottery Scammers Could Be Extradited – Minister Bunting]

Piloting the legislation, Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding noted that the illegal operation is fostering criminal activity, causing damage to Brand Jamaica, threatening the growth of legitimate businesses, and stifling investments, particularly in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector.

“The scam gained international notoriety in August 2012, when Western Union International closed 14 of its branches in St. James, in order to implement security measures capable of combating the lottery scam,” Mr. Golding said.

He added that it was felt that scammers were exploiting weak laws and conservative approaches to confronting new financial crimes which have resulted in relatively few successful prosecutions despite tremendous efforts, which were being made.

The scam has gained increased international attention with the United States Senate Special Committee on Ageing bringing the matter to the attention of Congress.

In his comments, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. A.J. Nicholson suggested that the debate on the Bill be suspended as issues have been raised in the public about the Act.

“Even if the issues were raised by one or two persons in the society, it is the duty of the Senate to contemplate the raising of those issues. (This will) give the Senators a chance to examine the issues that have been raised on the outside. Out of an abundance of caution, let us have another look,” Senator Nicholson said.

He noted that the lotto scam was affecting the country internally, and it threatens to damage the country’s image on the global stage.

“So, the Senate is going to be steadfast in forming an alliance against this evil that threatens our image, and in its pledge to co-operate with the United States authorities to remove the threat to the people of both our countries,” the Foreign Affairs Minister stated.

For his part, Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Senator Arthur Williams, welcomed the suggestion to suspend the debate on the legislation.

“Not only are we to give due consideration to issues raised in the public, but we also have some serious concerns about the Bill and what the suspension of the debate will do, is to give us the opportunity to communicate with the Ministry of Justice our concerns so that you can be fully informed,” he said.

“Let me say for the record that the Opposition intends to support the legislation that is going to put the scammers on the retreat,” Senator Williams said.

The Bill addresses, among other things: obtaining any property or inducing any person to confer any benefit on any person by false pretence; inviting or otherwise inducing a person to visit Jamaica for the purpose of committing an offence under the Act; and knowingly conducting a financial transaction with the proceeds of an offence. It also makes provision for powers of search and seizure and restitution.

The Bill also proposes that guilty persons be fined and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for up to 20 years.

By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter