Will it be in Paris, Rome, Vilnius or Frankfurt? The battle is raging between European capitals to welcome the future European Anti-Money Laundering Authority (AMLA), this new community institution responsible for keeping dirty money in check. Fully operational from January 2024, the authority should begin its activities in 2026. On Friday, France officially applied to host the future entity in Paris, in the La Défense district or near Lyon station .
Bruno Le Maire highlighted the presence, in the Ile-de-France region, of two institutions complementary to the future European Anti-Money Laundering Authority: the European Banking Authority, responsible for supervising the financial sector, and above all, the Groupe d financial action (FATF), global policeman of money laundering, responsible for identifying, in a black list, the least cooperative countries in terms of financial transparency. However, the game is not won because Germany, which already hosts the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, is also a favorite.
The arbitration therefore promises to be complex for European parliamentarians, who will have to decide the question by the end of the year. However, the enthusiasm of member countries testifies to the importance of this new entity, the first European organization strictly dedicated to the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism (AML-FT). Certainly, the EU has been struggling with dirty money for several decades: the first anti-money laundering directive, adopted in 1991, established in the Union customer identification and the obligation to report suspicions, two key principles of the fight against money laundering. Later, the EU strengthened its legal arsenal by adopting a risk-based approach, as well as a list of third countries likely to present a threat to the EU financial system.
Despite this, the holes in the racket are legion. At issue: the lack of harmonization of the fight against money laundering at Community level. Each state has its own anti-money laundering regulations. Although it must, in principle, transpose the principles of the last directive applicable in this area, Directive 2015/849, the EU rules are not directly applicable. Not to mention that each Member State fights against money laundering with the help of its own authorities... Some countries are more scrupulous than others when it comes to tracking down recycled tax fraud, or the financing of terrorism. “Faced with very effective transnational money laundering circuits, we need a unified approach to prevention,” admitted Edouard Fernandez-Bollo, member of the supervisory board at the ECB in Les Echos last February.
The European Union no longer really has a choice, any more than the governments of the twenty-seven. “States do not want to be accused of not having done what is necessary in the event of a scandal,” continued Edouard Fernandez-Bollo, referring to the Danske Bank affair, which shook the Union in 2018. This year There, Denmark discovered the involvement of its main bank in a vast money laundering circuit via its Estonian subsidiary. Despite the scale of the fraudulent flows (nearly 200 billion euros), they had passed under the radar of Dutch and Estonian banking supervision. To add insult to injury, it was the American policeman - and not the European Banking Agency - who discovered the problem.
It being understood that the ECB cannot carry out investigations into compliance with anti-money laundering rules, the only solution was to create a new entity. This is not the first time that the EU has adopted new instruments in the aftermath of crises: in 2014, in the wake of the “sovereign debt crisis”, the 27 had established the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) of banks of the Eurozone. Likewise, the future AMLA will have the mission of directly monitoring around forty banking and financial establishments involved in cross-border activities and considered risky in terms of money laundering. The aim is to detect and sanction money laundering networks, whether they are linked to terrorism or other criminal activities. The AMLA will also have an indirect supervisory role through the national authorities: it will have in its sights several thousand structures, such as payment establishments, money changers, insurance companies, investment companies or even service providers linked to cryptoassets.
To carry out this indirect surveillance, the future entity must still manage to collaborate effectively with all the competent authorities within the Union: the national supervisors, of course, but also the financial intelligence units (Tracfin, for example) or the banking supervisors which are the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Banking Authority (EBA). The task could prove much more difficult than the choice of the European capital which will house the famous headquarters. Because financial crooks like terrorists are overflowing with imagination when it comes to setting up new financial circuits intended to launder their activities. “Money laundering represents 5% of global GDP,” recalled the Minister for European Affairs, Laurence Boone, when announcing the French candidacy last Friday. Will the 250 positions that the European Commission wishes to allocate to the future European policeman be enough to stem this scourge?