The Malta Independent 23 September 2018, Sunday

TMIS Editorial - Urgently required: a centralised European anti-money laundering body

Sunday, 9 September 2018, 12:00 Last update: about 14 days ago

Europe is in dire need of a centralised anti-money laundering body perhaps now more than ever before. Recent events have shown us that such an institution is required to save ourselves from ourselves, after a number of recent cases at European Union banks exposed the bloc’s weakness when it comes to fighting and preventing financial crime.

The concept of having a common, harmonised agency with a coordinated approach is included in a preliminary plan drawn up this week to tighten the EU's defence against money laundering.

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The plan, which was made public on Friday, said such an agency could only be a possible long-term option, and it instead recommended measures such as adopting guidelines on how to address money laundering and more cooperation among the EU and national agencies responsible for countering financial crime and supervising banks.

The plan was prepared after cases of money laundering at banks in Malta, Latvia, Estonia and Denmark and just before Dutch giant ING this week agreed to pay a fine for failing to prevent money laundering.

These recent developments show that collectively we need to do more in this area than we are currently doing. Yes, some individual member states have cleaned up their act but the truth of the matter is that if there is one weak link in the 28-link chain, the entire chain is compromised.

And Malta has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism from EU quarters of late after the European Banking Authority took Malta’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit to task over its supervision of Pilatus Bank, while just last June European Commissioner for Justice Věra Jourová showed concerted concern over gaps in Malta’s anti-money laundering laws.

Meanwhile, there is an important deadline looming in about 10 days’ time – the Maltese government’s deadline to fully transpose the European Union’s 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive into national law, short of which it will be hauled before the European Court of Justice over the matter.

That came after the European Commission sent a second reasoned opinion to Malta over the breach, although the government had claimed it had fully implemented the law, at the 11th hour, back in December.

The Commission, however, had found Malta’s transposition to have been incomplete, despite the government’s ‘mission accomplished’ at the end of last December.

It is Europe’s belief that anti-money laundering rules are crucial in the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing, and that the Panama Papers and other scandals have revealed the need for stricter anti-money laundering rules.

Gaps in one member state, after all, have an impact on all others, which is why holistic, effective action against money laundering is one of the central points of the EU's approach to combating crime in Europe.

Malta has pledged to cooperate, and said that it legal teams will engage in technical discussions with the Commission’s legal team to explain the reasons and justification of Malta’s legislation and make the corrections that might be required. 

Let’s hope that pans out as planned because while this is all well and good, the plain fact of the matter is that Europe simply cannot afford to let any single state country be the weakest link – money laundered in one country can and often will support crime in another country.

And Malta can no longer be considered to be one of those weak links: too many jobs and too much of our economy depends on our financial services sector, and we can ill-afford any more blows.

We need to clean up our act here in Malta, and, in a wider context, across the whole of the EU, before it is too late and trust is lost for good.

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