How good are the experts at evaluating countries’ anti-money-laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) systems? That was the central question in a new report released last week by the Center on Law and Globalization. The report takes a critical look at the IMF’s evaluations of the AML/CFT systems of 150 countries from 2004 to 2013. Although we may differ on some of the analysis and recommendations, the report provides ample food for thought and raises issues that need to be addressed and, in certain instances, corrected.
It isn’t possible here to provide a full overview of all the points raised in the report, but a few key messages stand out:
The report finds that assessors were too focused on formal compliance (“rules on the books”) and did not, in any systematic fashion, try to ascertain the real impact of a country’s entire AML/CFT regime in practice. In the words of the report, “Reliance (by assessors) was placed on the prima facie plausibility of the claim that adherence to the [international AML] standards would help reduce money laundering and the financing of terrorism.” This criticism goes to a wider point: that evaluations were conducted without a clear articulation of the objectives to be achieved by AML/CFT measures. If you don’t know what a system is meant to accomplish, how can you evaluate it?
These are valid points and they hold true, not just for IMF evaluations, but also for others (including the World Bank) who carried out assessments using the same internationally agreed methodology. However, the report fails to take due account of the considerable work that has been undertaken in recent years to address and correct those shortcomings.
Since 2010, an intensive process of revision has been underway to improve the AML/CFT standards and the assessment methodology. There has been a long and vigorous debate within the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global standard-setter on these issues, and between the FATF and other bodies, about the best way to remedy the system’s deficiencies to make assessment reports more useful. Both the Bank and the Fund have played a very active role in this discussion.
As a result of this process, the new standards approved in 2012, along with a new methodology approved in 2013, provide a framework to address those concerns: Countries’ AML/CFT systems are to be judged based upon an assessment of their effectiveness in addressing a country’s ML/FT risks. Are government interventions commensurate to the risks faced? For example, a country with a negligible financial sector and a high use of cash should probably not spend too much money and manpower on policing its securities sector. Conversely, a sophisticated financial center providing easily usable incorporation services should probably keep a close eye on company registration. As a participant in this process, the World Bank has been a strong proponent of this pivot toward risk and effectiveness. In our view, only such an approach can help countries make meaningful decisions regarding their priorities and their strategies.
Liberia's new AML/CFT law is a step towards good governance in a country looking to the future (Credit: Kenneth Harper, Flickr Creative Commons)
On May 2nd, the President of Liberia signed into law a long anticipated bill to counter money laundering and terrorism financing (AML/CFT). The new Act, which included amendments to various other laws, will provide more effective legislative tools with which to fight corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes. The new Act will provide the legal basis to establish a Financial Intelligence Unit as the central coordinating agency in these efforts, provide better tools for authorities to seize and freeze the proceeds of crime, and improve cooperation in information- sharing and investigations. It will also require financial institutions and other entities often used to launder proceeds of crime, to identify and report suspicious transactions to authorities.
“Every two seconds, across the world, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers.” This is not the work of poor people trying to find wood to cook a few grains of rice to sustain life. No. This is the work of the illegal logging mafia - aided and abetted by corrupt government officials - from forest rangers to ministers of government. They do this for greed and with the arrogance of those who have no fear of arrest or prosecution.
Minneapolis has the largest Somali population in the US. Sending remittances to Somalia was put at risk late December when the Sunrise Community Bank in Minneapolis announced that it was going to close the accounts of all Somali remittance companies on December 30th 2011.To our knowledge, the Sunrise Community Bank was the last bank that was serving Somali remittance companies in Minneapolis. Closure of accounts meant no operation for remittance companies. This in turn meant no money for remittance-dependent Somalis, who had no other options since remittance service providers such as Western Union and MoneyGram didn’t operate in Somalia. Aid groups lobbied to challenge the closure, and their petition reached all the way up to President Obama.