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“The European battle against money laundering is getting new weapons”


Dhe criminals, terrorists, football agents, oligarchs (Russians in particular), arms traffickers, art “amateurs”: here is a non-exhaustive list of followers of dirty money laundering, wise exploiters of multiple European legislations.

No less than five European directives have succeeded in thirty years, with mixed success. On Tuesday 28 March, the European Parliament is preparing to adopt its position on the new anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism “package” proposed by the European Commission in July 2021. The opportunity to overcome a lackluster record and to engage in the European battle against money laundering by acquiring new weapons.

The lucrative Al Capone’s laundries pale in comparison to the astronomical amounts of money laundered today: 2% to 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) worldwide, i.e. more than 2,000 billion dollars [environ 1 850 milliards d’euros] per year, according to the UN. Almost five times the budget of France. Figures that make you dizzy and yet are largely underestimated.

As early as 1991, the European Union took up the subject by materializing, in the form of a first anti-money laundering directive, the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Despite this early goodwill, the European framework for combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism has since suffered from serious shortcomings.

Read also: France considered effective in the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism

So many flaws which the texts put to the vote today propose to remedy with two simple requirements: on the one hand, to harmonize legislation within the European Union (EU); on the other hand, to strengthen surveillance of the sectors and persons particularly prone to money laundering. In the context of European sanctions targeting the Russian oligarchs, it is the assurance of being able to identify and quickly seize their assets.

The billions of “golden visas”

Between 2011 and 2019, at least 130,000 third-country nationals – including sanctioned Russians and Belarusians – received “golden visas”. These programs have generated more than 20 billion euros in revenue for certain Member States, notably Cyprus and Malta, two countries whose anti-money laundering units are notoriously weak.

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These regimes of residence by investment, favored by criminals and wealthy foreigners, thus present risks for the entire European financial system. In addition to prohibiting them, the new European legislation establishes a joint anti-money laundering authority in order to ensure that the anti-money laundering units of the twenty-seven Member States meet the same requirements.

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