December 10, 2019 / 4:23 PM / 2 months ago

'Less action plans, more action': EU Commission under fire over money-laundering overhaul

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission said it would only consider money-laundering reforms after it completes a thorough assessment of the issue, dashing hopes the EU executive would act rapidly to crack down on dirty money flowing through the continent.

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters ahead of the European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Last week, EU governments backed a plan to strengthen the bloc’s powers to combat money laundering in the wake of a series of banking scandals. They said an EU body with an independent structure and direct powers over lenders should be considered, echoing similar calls from the European Parliament.

But the EU executive commission is not planning concrete proposals any time soon.

“We will follow up as appropriate after a thorough assessment,” a spokeswoman for the EU finance commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said, stressing that at this stage it was difficult to preempt the outcome of this analysis.

Dombrovskis has said he wants quick progress, but he plans to issue merely an action plan on anti-money laundering at the end of March, the commission’s draft long-term agenda shows.

This drew criticism from lawmakers who wanted the European Union to act urgently.

“When it comes to the fight against money laundering, we need less action plans and more legislative action,” said Markus Ferber, a German center-right lawmaker who leads on financial matters the largest political grouping in the European Parliament.

He said governments and lawmakers had made it clear that reforms to combat dirty money were urgent. “I would be disappointed if those clear messages only resulted in yet another action plan,” he said in an emailed statement.

“We have already many impact assessments. We need to use them now. The Commission should speed up the working,” Greens lawmaker Sven Giegold said.

The EU adopted an action plan on money laundering last year, after it emerged that 200 billion euros ($220 billion) in suspicious payments were made through Danske Bank’s (DANSKE.CO) tiny Estonian branch, in the EU’s largest money-laundering scandal.

As part of that plan, the Commission had already assessed the EU legal framework and concluded in July that supervisory tasks could be transferred to an EU body.

Despite criminal organizations frequently laundering the proceeds of their illegal activities abroad, the fight against financial crime in the EU is currently mostly handled by national authorities, which do not always cooperate fully.

In November, a confidential report from the European Central Bank showed Malta’s largest lender, state-owned Bank of Valletta BOV.MT, had for years failed to address dirty-money risks.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Pravin Char

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