UK Defenses Against Money Launderers Effective: FATF

By Koos Couvée

The United Kingdom has the most effective controls against money laundering and other financial crimes out of 60 countries assessed by an intergovernmental group since 2013, according to an advanced copy of a report obtained by ACAMS

The 235-page mutual evaluation report, which the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, plans to release in December, praises the country’s “aggressive” prosecution of money launderers and terrorist financiers, confiscation of £1 billion in illicit assets over the past four years and implementation of counterterrorism and counterproliferation sanctions.

FATF in the report for the first time gauged the effectiveness of the United Kingdom’s rules against illicit finance, assigning the country one of four possible scores in 11 “immediate outcomes” under a grading system adopted five years ago.

The United Kingdom rated “high” in two outcomes, “substantial” in six, “moderate”—the second-lowest possible score—in three, and did not rate “low” in any. Those totals match the United States, which has held the top spot in terms of efficacy for the past two years after receiving four high, four substantial, two moderate and one low score in the same 11 categories.

FATF members approved the report Thursday during the group’s weeklong plenary meeting in Paris.

A source present during those discussions told on condition of anonymity that the British delegation unsuccessfully lobbied to have the U.K.’s moderate ratings—a failing score—for anti-money laundering supervision and use of financial intelligence upgraded.

“The U.K. got a lot of Commonwealth countries to support them but it wasn’t enough,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.” Brexit was in the air … and Germany, France and the EU were against them. … The U.S. was also against.”

British delegates did manage to have their country’s scores for counterproliferation financing, measures against terrorist fundraisers and their abuse of the nonprofit sector changed from substantial to high after other countries agreed that the U.K. shows only minor shortcomings in those areas, the source said.

U.K. officials will have an opportunity to review the report before the final version is published in December.

The country also rated fully “compliant” or “largely compliant” in 38 of FATF’s 40 technical recommendations for combating financial crime, whereas the United States received “four” noncompliant grades in its December 2016 evaluation.

Despite the overall positive tone of the report, FATF warned that U.K. officials must strengthen supervision of lawyers and accountants for anti-money laundering purposes, regularly examine a wider array of financial institutions, and, crucially, boost the manpower and technical capabilities of the U.K. Financial Intelligence Unit.

The United Kingdom “has pursued a deliberate policy decision to limit the role of the UKFIU in undertaking operational and strategic analysis,” FATF claimed. “The UKFIU suffers from a lack of resources (human and IT) and analytical capability, which is a serious concern considering similar issues were raised over a decade ago.”

The “limited role” of UKFIU prevents the high quantity of suspicious activity reports filed each year from being “fully exploited in a systematic and holistic way and providing adequate support to investigators” despite the fact that law enforcement agencies across the country can access the data, according to FATF.

U.K. financial institutions also file SARs of high quality, but the reporting regime still requires a “significant overhaul” to trigger and advance more cases against money launderers and terrorist financiers, the group concluded.

British authorities could achieve this outcome by modernizing reporting mechanisms for all types of firms legally obliged to file SARs, as well as by making the online SAR form or its replacement more user-friendly, FATF claimed.

The report also raises concerns about the low number of penalties that the Financial Conduct Authority has assessed for AML violations in the five years since its establishment.

“There are questions about the dissuasiveness of sanctions in light of systemic AML/CFT [anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism] failings identified at some large multinational U.K. firms over the last decade,” FATF concluded in the report.

FATF separately echoed a complaint often voiced by anti-graft campaigners, noting in the report that the U.K. public register of beneficial owners has enhanced corporate transparency since going online in April 2016 but still contains too many inaccurate and out-of-date entries.

On the other hand, the Financial Conduct Authority’s introduction of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime, which assigns accountability for a financial institution’s AML compliance to a single individual, “appears to have [had] a positive impact on compliance” in the past two years, FATF found.

British officials have already set plans in motion to address some of the weaknesses highlighted by FATF.

A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency, which houses UKFIU, wrote in an email to that more resources will be allocated to the unit over the next three years “to respond to increases in operational demands.”

The Home Office for its part has launched an initiative with major banks and other private institutions to reform the SAR regime, and the Law Commission pitched measures in July aimed at streamlining AML rules to reduce the number of low-value reports filed to UKFIU.

Tom Keatinge, director of the center for financial crime and security studies at RUSI, a London-based policy center, said the U.K. deserves “considerable credit” for having used the FATF evaluation as “motivation” to shore up its AML regime in recent years.

However, “fundamental issues of concern” remain around the integrity of the corporate registry, criminal exploitation of legal entities and the frequent involvement of the British Virgin Islands and other U.K. offshore jurisdictions in global money-laundering schemes, Keatinge said.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Keatinge said. “The question is, having put so much energy and resource into the process, what will replace the steel of FATF in the U.K.’s back?”

A spokesperson for HM Treasury said the government had not yet seen the report and was therefore not in a position to comment.

Topics : Anti-money laundering , Counterterrorist Financing
Source: United Kingdom , United Kingdom: Bank of England/PRA , United Kingdom: Financial Conduct Authority , United Kingdom: HM Revenue & Customs , United Kingdom: HM Treasury , United Kingdom: Joint Money Laundering Steering Group , United Kingdom: National Crime Agency , United Kingdom: Parliament , United Kingdom: Office of Fair Trading
Document Date: October 19, 2018