Belgium named most lenient on money laundering in the EU
The disparate nature of punishments across the EU for money laundering is emphasised by research from Fortytwo Data…
Belgium is the EU’s most lenient country on money laundering despite its role in terrorist financing, anti-money laundering (AML) specialists Fortytwo Data have revealed.
The European Union’s disjointed approach to the fight against money laundering was laid bare as it emerged Belgium has a maximum sentence of just five years, the lowest of any EU country.
The strictest country, Bulgaria, has a maximum sentence six times higher at 30 years. In Malta the maximum sentence, when linked to drugs offences, is life.
Money laundering underpins terrorist financing as extremists move money around the globe to fund the planning and execution of attacks.
In some countries, including Belgium, there can be a separate offence of terrorist financing attracting harsher sentences but this offence can be more difficult to prosecute.
Detailed analysis of criminal sanctions by Fortytwo Data’s experts has revealed the wider offence of money laundering is subject to an incredible imbalance in sentencing powers across the EU.
Despite money laundering’s international dimension, the study revealed that Belgium – home of ‘Jihadi capital of Europe’ Molenbeek – is Europe’s stand-out weak link.
Brussels district Molenbeek is where Paris terror attacker Salah Abdeslam was caught alive by police last year after he and six accomplices killed 130 people at various sites across Paris in November 2015.
The Molenbeek area has become known as a hotbed of extremists and is reportedly home to 51 groups with suspected terror links.
In March last year a further 32 people were killed when jihadists, also with links to Molenbeek, attacked the airport and metro in Brussels with three coordinated suicide bombings.
Last year, more people per capita from Belgium had travelled to join terror groups like Islamic State in Syria than any other EU country.
Aside from Belgium, the countries with the most lenient sentencing powers were Denmark, Finland and Sweden which all had maximum sentences of six years followed by Lithuania with seven years.
The most severe penalties after Bulgaria were found in Greece, Luxembourg and Slovakia where the longest sentence is 20 years imprisonment.
The disparity in sentencing powers is all the more striking because of the EU’s concerted effort to harmonise the approach of member states in tackling money laundering.
The European Commission’s deadline for applying its 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive (4AMLD) passed only last month.
However, the Commission has already had to write to 17 member states over their failure to implement the new rules in time. The only countries to meet the deadline were Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
And the EU has been in the same situation before.
In 2008 the EU announced it was pursuing infringement proceedings against 15 member states – Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Slovakia – for missing the same deadline for 3AMLD.
The EU Commission can ultimately refer infringements to the European Court of Justice.
Julian Dixon, CEO at Fortytwo Data, said: “It is remarkable and deeply concerning that such weak sentencing powers are found in a country that has acted as a staging post for international terror.
“Terrorists cannot operate without funds and that money must often be moved across international borders. This is why tackling money laundering is crucial in the fight against terrorism but the EU and its allies must speak with one voice.
“It is vital money laundering offences attract sufficiently serious penalties that act as a deterrent. These sanctions should be consistent across jurisdictions.
“The authorities are tackling money laundering by tying financial institutions, lawyers and even estate agents, up in so much red tape that it is costing our economies billions of pounds each year.
“However, this is all being done without first harmonising the penalties for those guilty of what is an extremely serious offence. Money laundering is a major part of the criminal toolkit used by organised crime and extremists.”