SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s corporate regulator said on Friday it would pursue harsh civil penalties and criminal sanctions against banks and their executives for wrong-doing backed by new legislation poised to pass through parliament.
Under the proposed new laws, prison terms for corporate executives will triple to up to 15 years, and financial penalties for white-collar crimes will be increased.
Dan Crennan, deputy chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), said in a statement the legislation would give the regulator stronger powers to punish breaches of corporate laws.
“Now ASIC will be in a position to pursue extremely harsh civil penalties and criminal sanctions against banks, their executives and others where they have breached the corporate laws of Australia,” Crennan said.
“Without this bill very significant aspects of the law lacked sufficient penalties to properly punish Corporate wrongdoing in Australia.”
The government is seeking to improve public confidence in the financial system and give more power to regulators that have been criticised for their timid approach to enforcing the law.
A year-long inquiry into misconduct that ended earlier this month found instances where ASIC and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) had responded inadequately to serious cases of misconduct by financial services providers.
The laws, which will give ASIC powers to deal with a wider range of offences and will increase civil penalties for companies to a maximum A$525 million ($372 million), passed the Senate on Thursday.
The legislation now has bipartisan political support and is therefore almost assured of passing the House of Representatives when it is introduced next week.
Reporting by Paulina Duran; Editing by Kim Coghill