Conviction for anti-money laundering offences without criminal intent | the future of AML legislation?

There is a tendency in Dutch legislation to move toward the possibility to convict companies  for anti-money laundering offences without criminal intent and without knowledge of laundering taking place.

According to the conclusion of a thesis by a UK author, Ms. Katie Benson, this is something already possible in the UK. Her thesis is about the role of legal and financial professionals in anti-money laundering (AML) legislation. She writes that in certain circumstances conviction for anti-money laundering offences is even possible in cases that the company had no knowledge or suspicion that laundering was taking place. In the conclusion (chapter 9) she writes among other things:

Money laundering legislation in the UK has a broad scope; it allows for the conviction of regulated professionals for money laundering offences without criminal intent or even, in certain circumstances, knowledge or suspicion that laundering was taking place. This represents a notable departure from the international frameworks from which it was derived, which focused on those who had deliberately laundered criminal proceeds. The wide scope of the legislation is justified with arguments that proving actual knowledge or suspicion of laundering is extremely difficult, and that those in the regulated sector may choose not to report suspicious transactions because they felt safe from prosecution if actual knowledge was required. In addition, professionals are seen as representing a ‘weak point’ in the anti-­money laundering regime and, as qualified, skilled professionals in a privileged position, as being able to bear the responsibility for money laundering prevention that this requires. However, the scope of the legislation means it can ‘catch’ professionals who are not complicit in money laundering, but have made an error of judgement or one-off decision that has led to their involvement in a transaction involving criminal funds. This can lead to a custodial sentence, as well as the likely end of their professional career, and therefore has significant implications for those working in regulated sectors.

She observes that the one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable for legal and professional professionals:

The research also suggests that the heterogeneous nature of legitimate actors’ involvement in the organisation of crime should be appreciated, taking account of the variation of roles and relationships involved, and that such involvement cannot be easily categorised as either complicit, active participation or innocent exploitation.

Worrying is that a thesis is needed to find this out.

It is to be hoped that legislators will improve AML-legislation and prevent collateral damage of companies being convicted that did not know they were part of a money laundering scheme.

NB Laymen do not know how wide-ranging the concept of money laundering is.

More information:

  • Katie Benson, “The Facilitation of Money Laundering by Legal and Financial Professionals Roles, Relationships and Response“, thesis submitted to the University of Manchester for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities, 2016, to be found on the website.
  • My article on the one size fits all approach of FATF, in Dutch, 22 July 2016

Over Ellen Timmer, advocaat ondernemingsrecht @Pellicaan

Verbonden aan Pellicaan Advocaten,, kantoor Capelle aan den IJssel (Rotterdam), telefoon 088-6272287, fax 088-6272280, e-mail ||| Weblogs: algemeen: || modernisering ondernemingsrecht:
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