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The benefits of complying with money laundering and financial sanctions regimes

30 May 2022

The benefits of complying with money laundering and financial sanctions regimes

Christopher Barrow of Metropolitan Safe Deposits believes clear regulatory procedures instil business confidence in the eyes of both regulators and customers.

Independent UK companies that rent safe deposit boxes to customers are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for the purposes of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter-Terrorism Financing only. That essentially means that the FCA oversees the efforts of these businesses to prevent criminals and terrorists from exploiting their services. Money laundering is the process by which the proceeds of crime are converted into assets that appear to have a legitimate origin.

The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 is the latest piece of legislation that requires regulated businesses to take steps to detect and prevent money laundering and the finance of terrorism. These 2017 regulations replaced the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 and set out the additional obligations of private sector firms working in higher money laundering risk areas. They aim to stop criminals using professional services to launder money by requiring professionals to take a risk-based approach.

Other important “original” pieces of legislation were the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA), which related to the recovery of criminal assets, and the Terrorism Act 2000, which was the first of a number of general Terrorism Acts giving police officers the power to arrest persons suspected of terrorism-related offences without a warrant.

For the past 15 years, the UK’s independent safe deposit industry has been driven principally by the requirements laid down by the Money Laundering Regulations 2007. These regulations stipulate that safe deposit providers must, for example:

  • apply customer due diligence or Know-Your-Customer (KYC) measures: verifying the identity of customers, and getting information about the nature and intended nature of the business relationship;
  • monitor business relationships to identify suspicious activity and ensure that information about customers is up-to-date;
  • apply more stringent measures in situations where there is a higher risk of money laundering;
  • report suspicious activity to the authorities: suspicious activity reports (SARs) need to be filed with the National Crime Agency (NCA);
  • maintain appropriate procedures designed to achieve the above, including procedures related to record-keeping and staff training.

In addition to the regulatory obligations with respect to anti-money laundering and terrorist financing, safe custody service providers are now advised to have procedures in place to check whether new and existing customers are subject to financial sanctions. HM Treasury produces a list of financial sanctions with details of individuals and entities that have had their funds frozen after sanctions have been applied by the UK government.

The primary legislation governing the sanctions regime is the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, which came fully into force on 31 December 2020. In relation to Russia, the UK government imposed sanctions by means of the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which replaced an EU sanctions regime as part of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Whilst the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 provides the main legal basis for the UK to impose, update and lift sanctions, some sanctions measures apply through other legislation. This includes the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the Export Control Order 2008 and the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010. Given the complexities of dealing with multiple anti-money laundering and financial sanctions regimes, regulated businesses should seek specialist legal advice on what steps to take to ensure full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March this year, there has been a greater emphasis on safe custody providers (and other regulated businesses) to have procedures in place to check whether customers are subject to sanctions. Legal advice should be sought on how to interpret the regulations and therefore determine the potential consequences (and actions required) for the business. HM Treasury’s sanctions list should be monitored regularly in order to ensure that the most up-to-date version of the sanctions regime is being checked.

It is clearly important for any business to focus on the need to maintain high standards of compliance in this increasingly regulated environment. This requires heavy investment in systems and services, as well as staff training, to ensure that the business fulfils its KYC and due diligence obligations. It is also advisable to carry out a regular and thorough review of all policies and procedures. Boards and senior management must feel confident that they are fully compliant from a legal and regulatory viewpoint, and that policies and procedures are embedded into the company’s business process.

Regulatory compliance should not be seen as an obligation, but as a business opportunity. Sound regulatory and governance structures reduce business risk and improve corporate culture. Whilst today’s increasingly complex money laundering and sanctions regimes require a significant level of resources, it should not be seen as another cost and management distraction, but as a key value driver. Providing clear structures, processes and controls not only facilitates a positive relationship with regulators and law enforcement agencies, but also instils confidence in the eyes of bona fide customers who, after all, do not wish to “mix” with criminals.

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