23rd Oct 2016


Time for action on financial transparency

  • Washing machines: MEPs are set for a committee vote on the anti-money laundering directive on 13 February (Photo: BLPerk)

On 13 February the European Parliament will have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to vote for legislative revisions to the current EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD).

If implemented correctly, a revised AMLD could have a tremendous impact on the battles against corruption, drug trafficking, tax evasion and a slew of other criminal activities all currently facilitated by the ease in which money can still be laundered in Europe today.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The draft EU AMLD would, in part, require all companies registered in the EU to hold details of who really owns and controls them – their beneficial owners. This might not sound like much but consider this: in Europe less personal information is asked of a company opening a bank account than there is of an individual applying for a driver’s license, to rent an apartment or to simply obtain a library card.

As a result, many companies are opened in names unassociated with that of the person who really owns or controls them. And once a bank account has been opened in a false name, if illegal activity is suspected it is almost impossible to follow the money laundering criminal money trail back to the owner.

A public register would have made it more difficult for mafia organisations Cosa Nostra and Camorra to use Italian and other shell companies to launder huge sums of money. Over the last decades, Italian mafia groups used Italian companies to defraud the European Union out of millions of euros that were meant to be used to regenerate Europe’s poorest regions.

Last year, the European Commission hired accounting firm Deloitte to look into the effectiveness of the current AMLD. They found that it did not do enough to combat international or even pan-European money laundering schemes.

One of the short-comings high-lighted in the study was the difficulty banks have in identifying an account’s beneficial owner.

Not only can the due-diligence be a costly and time-consuming undertaking, but without substantial prohibitive measures in place, the incentive for banks to chase down information about wealthy clients is sometimes missing.

We belong to those who feel we need to go a step further and require European countries to set up registries of the beneficial owners of companies.

These registers should be publicly accessible.

By sharing company ownership with all interested parties - including banks, law enforcement, journalists, citizens and NGOs - we can ensure that adequate oversight is guaranteed and information is made available to those who need it.

Bankers will be able to follow through on due diligence, law enforcement will be able to attach names to proceeds from crime, journalists can research political contributions or other questionable or even illegal donations (and many other stories of corruption) and average citizens or small businesses could learn, for example, to better understand who is behind their partners, suppliers or customers.

Providing beneficial ownership information to the public registry would not require much from the companies beyond sharing information they should already possess such as the company beneficial owner’s full name, date of birth, the means of exercising control over the company, contact details and information detailing the legal shareholders.

With the AMLD vote, Europe has the potential to set the standard on anti-money laundering for the rest of the world. So much good to be done with relatively little effort - we hope MEPs from other member states are as clear about the wealth of possibilities as we are.

Cecilia Wikstroem is a Liberal Swedish MEP. Koen Roovers works in Brussels for the Financial Transparency Coalition, an international network of not-for-profit groups which advocates transparency and accountability in the global financial system


Europe ready to tackle Greek debt relief

The Greek government has built and broadened alliances in EU institutions and member-states that acknowledge the need to restructure the debt and deliver another economic model for the eurozone.

News in Brief

  1. Canada and Wallonia end talks without Ceta deal
  2. Juncker hopes for Canada accord in 'next few days'
  3. Romania drops opposition to Ceta
  4. Difficulties remain on Ceta deal, says Walloon leader
  5. Brexit could lead to 'some civil unrest' in Northern Ireland
  6. ECB holds rates and continues quantitive easing programme
  7. Support for Danish People's Party drops, poll
  8. Spain's highest court overturns Catalan ban on bullfighting

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  2. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  3. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  4. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  5. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  6. EASPDJoin the Trip! 20 Years on the Road. Conference & Photo Exhibition on 19-21 October
  7. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  8. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  9. Dialogue PlatformIs Jihadism Blind Spot of Western Intellectuals ? Wednesday 26 October
  10. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  11. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  12. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity