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The UK will lead the way on AML post-Brexit – Cheek

by: Martin Cheek, managing director, SmartSearch
  • 06/07/2020
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The UK will lead the way on AML post-Brexit – Cheek
With the deadline for an extension to the UK–EU trade negotiations having passed at the end of June, it is now almost certain that the current transition period will expire as scheduled at the end of the year.

 

Given the apparent lack of progress in the talks, this raises the prospect that this will happen without a full agreement in place across the wide range of issues currently under discussion.

One of these is the future of co-operation on financial crime, including the enforcement of money-laundering regulations currently determined at an EU level.

On the EU side, there have been a number of announcements recently indicating that Anti-Money Laundering (AML) rules will be tightened still further.

Most recently, in May, the EU announced a six-point action plan to step up the fight against money-laundering, including plans for a single EU rulebook and EU-wide supervision.

In the UK, the government transposed the fifth EU Money Laundering Directive (5MLD) into law in January of this year, but has opted out of implementing a sixth directive (6MLD) which is due to come into force across the EU in December.

Although that falls within the transition period, the UK position is that its existing rules are already in line with what 6MLD requires.

This has led to speculation that, once the transition period is over, the UK will use its new-found freedom to diverge from the EU in this area.

The prospect of ‘regulatory arbitrage’ is held out by some as a means by which the UK – and particularly its financial sector – can retain its competitive advantage over its continental neighbours.

This seems unlikely, however. Along with other developed countries, the UK is a signatory to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), established by the G7 in 1989 to set the global standards in the fight against money-laundering and terrorist finance.

The FATF now has 39 members, including all of the world’s major financial centres.

And it has also recently made clear that it is in no mood to let up, issuing a statement at the height of the ‘lockdown’ in April, highlighting the increased risk of financial crime as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

In reality, the UK has no reason to want to lower the guard against money-laundering. Any sign that it is leaving itself more exposed to dirty cash will have a powerful negative impact on legitimate investors, who rightly see the UK’s strong regulatory regime as an important factor in maintaining a well-functioning market.

Recent tough enforcement action – such as the £38m fine levied by the FCA on the UK arm of Commerzbank – suggests that, if anything, the UK will be leading the way.

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