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Banks rush to comply with deposit box rules

Kenya Bankers Association chief executive Habil Olaka
Kenya Bankers Association chief executive Habil Olaka. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Banks are rushing to implement a directive by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) on declaration of the contents of safe deposit boxes held in lenders' vaults.

Last week, banks continued writing to their customers urging them to adhere to the directive that seeks to curb potential for abuse of the privacy of the facilities by money launderers.

The CBK mid this year wrote to lenders instructing them to have their customers disclose the nature of any content stored in the boxes by December 31.

"We have received new guidelines from Central Bank of Kenya requiring banks to verify the contents of locker deposit boxes availed to their customers in line with existing Anti Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Regulations," wrote I&M Bank in a notice to customers holding such boxes.

"Consequently, we request that you arrange to visit (your branch) where your safety box is held at your earliest convenience but not later than 31 October 2020 for this exercise."

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Bankers said the new policy would boost the fight against money laundering.

"This places responsibility on the banks to verify the contents of the safe deposits to ensure that they conform to the guidelines. Illicit content can no longer pass," said Kenya Bankers Association chief executive Habil Olaka.

Safe deposit boxes offer clients the possibility to store items such as jewels, art or any other valuables in a private and highly secure bank vault.

In the circular to chief executives of all regulated financial institutions, the CBK had asked lenders to verify contents of the boxes to minimise the risk of these services being used for illegal activities, including money laundering.

"For the customers who were genuinely using the boxes for keeping things legally acquired safely away, not much change other than the additional intrusive requirements from the banks," Mr Olaka said.

"The few customers who may have been tempted to stash illegally acquired items in the boxes will have to move elsewhere. This keeps the banking system insulated from penetration by money laundering activities."

Detectives in March last year impounded $20 million (Sh2 billion) in what they said was fake currency at the Barclays Kenya Queensway Branch (now Absa Kenya) in Nairobi.

The seizure exposed the weak underbelly of customer surveillance systems in the Kenyan banking sector.

The lender said then that one of its customers at the branch had kept the fake currency in a safe deposit box.

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