Money Laundering Watchdog Turns Focus to Digital Tools, Extremism
29 Dec 2020

The coronavirus halted a wide range of economic activities, but it hasn’t stopped criminals from using the global financial system to commit fraud and engage in other types of illicit behavior.

Yet the pandemic has forced some countries to divert resources away from fighting money laundering and made it harder for compliance officers in the private sector to detect it, according to the Financial Action Task Force.

The organization, which sets international standards and assesses countries’ anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism-financing policies, has been closely monitoring the impact of the pandemic on its global network, says Marcus Pleyer, FATF’s president.

Mr. Pleyer began a two-year term as FATF’s head in July, about two months after the organization released its first report on the AML and CTF risks posed by the pandemic. In an interview with Risk & Compliance Journal, Mr. Pleyer discussed FATF’s priorities under his presidency. Edited excerpts follow.

WSJ: Has the coronavirus pandemic increased the risk of money laundering?

MR. PLEYER: We see an increase in certain crimes and money laundering patterns. For example, fraud connected with government aid. We see fundraising for fake charities. We see counterfeiting of medical goods. Also, cybercrime.

On the other hand, cash intensive crimes where you need to take cash over the border is certainly something that is decreasing.

What worries me a little bit also is that…there has been an impact on [anti-money-laundering] work in the public sector. We see that in some countries resources are diverted to other areas of government.

We also see this in the private sector. When customers are onboarded, the customer due diligence processes are sometimes not driven at the same level as usual because people are working from home or they have different security measures.

WSJ: There seems to be a growing consensus that the traditional anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism-financing regime isn’t working. How might FATF’s standards evolve to address some of those issues?

MR. PLEYER: There is something that really could change the game, and that is not necessarily a revision of the standards. I think the standards are right. Countries need to implement them fully and effectively, and to make this possible countries should look into—and we at FATF will look into—the digital tools that are out there to promote effective implementation of the standards.

That is why under my presidency we issued a priority on digitization, and we will look into what digital solutions exist and how they can be used for AML-CFT. We will look into possible structural legal technical obstacles and how you can address them.

There is some tension between effectively fighting money laundering on the one side and adhering to data protection. I’m pretty sure if we bring together—and that is what I plan to do—people from the AML area, people from data protection and the technical experts, we will find ways to reconcile these two objectives.

WSJ: Is technology the primary solution to the problem?

MR. PLEYER: You cannot make AML more effective by using digital tools only—you need trained people. So it’s also about human resources, in all the parts of the chain of AML. You need them in compliance, you need them with the supervisors, you need them with the financial Intelligence units, you need them with law enforcement.

This is why I encouraged leaders at the G-20 summit to leave AML-CFT very high on the agenda—to invest in law enforcement and provide them with the necessary human resources. But again, [to provide them] also with the digital resources. It’s always the right mixture between human resources, skills and digital tools.

By Dylan Tokar, The Wall Street Journal, 28 December 2020

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

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