June 23. 2024. 1:02

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Madrid ‘ideal’ setting for EU Anti Money Laundering Authority, says expert

Madrid would be an excellent candidate for the headquarters of the future EU Anti Money Laundering Authority (AMLA) given its perfect record and pioneering initiatives on the matter, Mariano García Fresno, an expert on money laundering, told EuroEFE in an interview.

García Fresno is head of the Analysis Unit in the Centralised Money Laundering Prevention Body at the Spanish General Council of Notaries (CGN) – an independent body set up in 2005 by the Economy Ministry.

“When the EU regulations first came out, and it was not clear where the future Anti-Money Laundering Authority (AMLA) was going to be, we (at the OCP) were the ones who took a first step forward to promote Madrid’s candidacy,” he said.

The sensitive topic of money laundering in the EU made headlines this week after the European Parliament on Tuesday gave its green light to a draft anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing bill, which includes plans for the new anti-money laundering authority.

Spain: ‘model’ in the EU

The new bills – to be debated in the plenary in April – include the creation of AMLA and tightening the limits on anonymous crypto-transactions, among other things. It also provides a new transnational register of beneficial owners accessible to individuals and international organisations.

“Madrid is a great place to host (the AMLA). Spain has very effective legal tools and a great preventive anti-money laundering system. In fact, one of the assessments that will be taken into account when deciding where to place it is the situation of the host country. And Spain is doing very well in the fight against money laundering”, the expert recalls.

The Spanish anti-money laundering model has a design similar to the one proposed for the AMLA, where the Spanish Commission for the Prevention of Money Laundering and its supporting bodies, the SEPBLAC, act as regulators, supervisors, and the Financial Intelligence Unit.

In 2012, the CGN created a pioneering instrument in the fight against money laundering at the EU level: the Beneficial Ownership Database (Base de Datos de Titular Real).

This tool makes it possible to find out who the hidden persons behind a company are, even in the chain of complex corporate structures. This database identifies the beneficial owners of 2,422,547 commercial entities, 163,914 non-commercial legal entities, such as associations, foundations, or political parties, and 50,672 foreign entities, according to CGN data.

“Initially, it was going to be for the internal use of the notaries themselves and the OCP’s Analysis Unit, but the (Spanish) Commission for the Prevention of Money Laundering (linked to the Spanish Treasury) understood that it could be good for this database to be used by others, and asked us to open it up to other bodies”, including recently the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

Other EU countries are also competing with Spain in the race to attract the seat of the AMLA, including Austria, Italy, and Luxembourg.

Yet, García Fresno is optimistic about Madrid’s candidacy.

Regarding the criteria for selecting the Authority’s home, an EU spokesperson told EURACTIV that this is a “question for the co-legislators to discuss and agree upon”.

AMLA, a very unique EU body

The Beneficial Ownership Database tool is an inspiring model for other EU countries that mull creating a similar body, and it is also a strong point to support Madrid’s candidacy, the expert explains.

Spain enjoys a great record in the matter.

In 2014, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), an intergovernmental organisation founded in 1989 on the initiative of the G7, evaluated Spain’s preventive anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing system very positively, he recalls.

“But there are many more reasons to support Madrid’s candidacy. If the EU wanted to separate the overall supervision of money laundering from the prudential supervision (the central bank with respect to who supervises money laundering and terrorist financing), it makes no sense for the AMLA to be based, for example, in Frankfurt (headquarters of the ECB) or Paris (EBA, European Banking Authority),” said García Fresno.

“The AMLA will have other functions and different tasks. I think that, in the end, it will be a political decision. But I am convinced that Madrid will be among the finalists. It is a very good option,” he added.

(Fernando Heller | EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)