Belgium's anti-money laundering (AML) measures have been called into question today, as new research from transaction screening platform Fortytwo Data reveals the country is the most lenient European Union state towards those found guilty of the crime.
Money laundering – the process by which criminals disguise the original ownership and control the proceeds of criminal conduct – is often used to fund terrorist organisations. Brussels itself was hit by terror attacks just last year, while the Belgian capital was found to be housing several individuals involved in the Paris attacks of 2015.
Belgium gives money launderers a maximum sentence of just five years, according to Fortytwo's research, while Bulgaria – the strictest country – has a maximum sentence of 30 years. Malta meanwhile can sentence offenders to life imprisonment if the money laundering is linked to a drugs offence, while the UK comes in joint fourth position along with Cyprus and Ireland levying a maximum 14-year sentence.
“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,” said Julian Dixon, chief executive of Fortytwo Data.
The research notes that in several countries, including Belgium, there is a separate criminal offence of terrorist financing which can attract a harsher sentence. However, it adds this may be more difficult to prosecute.
Denmark, Finland and Sweden closely followed Belgium with maximum sentences of six years. Greece, Luxembourg and Slovakia were harsh on the sentencing, all threatening a maximum sentence of 20 years.
The disparity is all the more surprising given the EU's continued attempts to harmonise AML legislation across the bloc. The deadline for applying its fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive passed in June, and already the European Commission has had to write to 17 member states over their failure to implement the new rules which increase scrutiny.
Belgium did meet the deadline, along with Austria, Croatia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.