Royal Bank of Canada announced this month it would leave Uruguay altogether in October after its Montevideo office was raided on orders of an Argentine magistrate investigating football-related money laundering.
Uruguayan bankers called the raid misguided and heavy handed. Argentine attempts to confiscate customer data and information on financial transactions were thwarted at the last minute by Central Bank of Uruguay, but both sides are still in talks on coordinating measures against banks and other organizations suspected of laundering funds.
Authorities in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay coordinated raids on banks, football clubs and representative officers for football personalities after reports of links between player transfers and money laundering.
Uruguayan Vice President Danilo Astori called the raid on Royal Bank of Canada disorderly and asked the bank to reconsider its decision to abandon Uruguay.
"It is not good for Uruguay that a bank of such relevance leaves the country and I'm also concerned about the events that led to such a decision. I believe it could have been done in another way, a more orderly [way]," Astori said.
The bank says the closure of its Montevideo operation is part of a strategic review of its Latin American business and is separate from an ongoing judicial inquiry into soccer finances and Uruguay's financial sector.
Royal Bank of Canada says it has been working with Uruguayan authorities and hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing.
Banking professionals in Montevideo are not reassured about the government and judicial response to suspected wrongdoing. They cited alleged excesses said to have been committed during operations that involved security personnel from both Argentina and Uruguay.
The Royal Bank of Canada office in Montevideo has about 40 staff members but it's not clear how many were present when the authorities arrived.
Those present during the raid were frisked and computer hardware and software was confiscated. Argentine authorities launched raids in Buenos Aires and claimed to have located a central organization suspected of laundering funds in relation to transfers of soccer players between teams. Raids involved sport organizations in Chile as well, but details of the operations were not revealed.
Questions have been raised over the reach of Argentine judicial authorities across borders in Chile and Uruguay and about the harshness of measures. Bankers' representatives told regional news media they'd have been less alarmed if the measures were undertaken by national authorities rather than agents and judicial officials from another country, Argentina.
Argentine Judge Norberto Oyarbide coordinated the mid-June raids where he was accompanied by judicial and police officials from Chile and Uruguay.
An estimated 150 search warrants were issued for simultaneous operations carried out in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay that involved financial institutions, football clubs and players' representatives. Officials said they were looking for clues to a regional network using player transfers as a way of transferring large amounts across borders.
Of the three countries, Argentina has taken the hardest line against suspected money laundering operations. But senior executives in Uruguay's Zonamerica free economic zone have called on the government to ensure there's no repeat of such operations.
Money laundering is a growing issue in Chile but is primarily narcotics related, analysts say. Chile criminalized money laundering under an Anti-Money Laundering Law in 1995 and updated the Law in 2003 to include financing of terrorism, illegal arms trafficking, corruption and fraud in different economic sectors and the mandatory reporting of suspicious transactions.
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