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New EU anti-money laundering directive

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Stepping up the fight against tax crimes and terrorist financing, EU member states will be required to keep a central register of persons, including trusts, with effective ownership and control of companies, under the fourth anti-money laundering directive under new rules already agreed with the Council and endorsed by the European Parliament.

These central registers were not envisaged in the European Commission's initial proposal, but were included by MEPs in negotiations. Each register will be accessible to the authorities and others with due diligence obligations or a ‘legitimate interest’, such as investigative journalists. To access a register, a person or organisation will have to demonstrate a ‘legitimate interest’ in suspected money laundering, terrorist financing and in ‘predicate’ offences that may help to finance them, such as corruption, tax crimes and fraud. Any exemption to the access provided by member states will be possible only ‘on a case-by-case basis, in exceptional circumstances’. Central register information on trusts will be accessible only to the authorities and ‘obliged entities’.

The directive also sets specific reporting obligations for banks, auditors, lawyers, real estate agents and casinos, among others, on suspicious transactions made by their clients. A new regulation will also make it easier to trace transfers of funds.

Member states will have two years to transpose the directive into their national laws. The transfers of funds regulation will be directly applicable in all member states 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal. For the communication, see