Money laundering: a review in Europe at last
The European Commission has finally announced its plans for a full review of the impact of the anti-money laundering legislation on the legal profession.This review was supposed to take place years ago. The commission issued a working document in 2006 that purported to be a review of the impact of the second Money Laundering Directive on the legal profession. But, because of the low number of responses and the slow implementation of the legislation, the commission announced at the time that there would be another review into the impact of the third Money Laundering Directive on the legal profession before the end of 2009. That was in any case demanded by article 42 of the third Money Laundering Directive. Since the second Money Laundering Directive, with its important obligations on lawyers to report suspicious transactions, was incorporated into the third Money Laundering Directive, this new review is clearly going to be the big one at last.
What a shame, then, that the notice for those interested in undertaking the impact study was issued on 20 June, with a deadline for submission of 28 August. Has the commission not heard of summer holidays? It is difficult enough to get a consortium together for complicated studies like this in the best of times, but two months over the summer holidays shows cruel indifference to those who care about the future of lawyer reporting.
There are other aspects which cause difficulties for the legal profession. The first is that the part relating to the impact on lawyers is thrown into a review of the impact of the whole directive, much of which has little to do with lawyers. So, anyone who wants to undertake the legal profession part of the study – which is of crucial interest to lawyers – has to undertake it within a much larger and more general exercise.
Second is the question of who actually gets to undertake these studies, and other projects of direct relevance to lawyers. This is a general problem, not related just to this study. The EU has been burned in the past by allegations of corruption and incompetence in the handling of its many programmes. Not a year goes by without its accounts being qualified. And so they are very careful about the organisations to which they give money.
This sounds like a good idea. But one of its unintended side effects has been to allow global generalists – usually public affairs consultancies – to carve up the market among themselves, since they are able to invest resources in building up a profile running these kinds of programmes over and over again. Today they investigate the problems of biscuit manufacturing in the EU, tomorrow the way that goldfish are suffering from chemical additives. They also compete in programmes involving the law and legal professions.
The consequence is that the legal professional bodies, with specific interest in this particular study, or others with particular expertise in another area have to compete with the giants, negotiate with them and hope that the European Commission will choose them in one form or another.
A more sensible way should be chosen to spend our tax pounds in employing expertise and relevant interest in the EU. It would be a shame, for instance, if those legal professional bodies, which have spent so much energy over the last few years defending the ethics of lawyers in the money laundering debate, played no meaningful part in the review of the third Money Laundering Directive.
Jonathan Goldsmith is the Secretary General of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents over 700,000 European lawyers through its member bars and law societies.