Germany to ramp up AML defences with new federal office


Moody’s Analytics recently outlined how Germany’s new financial crime office will face big challenges when it opens next year. 

Germany’s new Federal Office to Combat Financial Crime (BBF – Bundesamt zur Bekämpfung von Finanzkriminalität) is set to tackle a heap of challenges as it commences operations in January 2024. Established amidst growing concerns over money laundering and terrorist financing (MLTF), the BBF represents a determined shift in Germany’s approach to these serious threats.

The inception of the BBF coincides with a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) report that underlined a critical need for enhanced anti-MLTF measures within Germany. Despite being the EU’s leading economy, Germany trails behind neighbours like Spain, France, and Italy in anti-money laundering initiatives, an issue that has amplified the urgency for this new office.

The BBF is structured on three pillars: The Central Office for Sanctions Enforcement, the Central Office for Financial Transaction Investigation (FIU), and the Office for ML Investigation. This robust framework is Germany’s strategic response to its infamous reputation as a ‘paradise’ for money launderers, attributed to high cash usage, particularly in property transactions, drawing in organised crime groups.

The efficacy of combating financial crime hinges on a unified, interconnected strategy, a specific challenge for Germany due to its federal system where states wield substantial prosecutorial authority. This decentralisation does not favour a consolidated front against MLTF activities, necessitating a more proactive stance as advised by the FATF.

Recognising the past reforms, the FATF emphasises the necessity for a systematic investigation and prosecution approach, alongside adequate resourcing for MLTF probes. The focus is on harnessing financial intelligence comprehensively in the fight against financial crime, especially with the forthcoming EU’s Anti-Money-Laundering Authority (AMLA) between 2024 and 2026, potentially hosted by Frankfurt if Germany demonstrates significant advancements.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner has committed to robust reforms, including the creation of the BBF, training specialists, and fast-tracking the digitisation of property registers. These steps, according to Lindner, mark a ‘milestone’ in anti-money laundering efforts, although responses to these changes have been varied. While some view them as progressive, others argue for more extensive measures to address the financial crime conundrum in Germany comprehensively.

The new structure promises an influx of resources for AML enforcement and probes, potentially resolving prevalent issues in the Financial Intelligence Unit, now under BBF’s jurisdiction. However, scepticism persists regarding the FIU’s inefficiencies and the overall capability of the BBF, considering the states’ control over prosecutions and the anticipated EUR 700m investment over four years.

Critics advocate for more transparency in financial dealings and a cap on cash transactions, reflecting broader apprehensions about the new office’s impact on Germany’s intricate anti-financial crime landscape. Regardless, the central focus remains on harmonising efforts across the federation to effectively counter the estimated EUR 100bn laundered annually in the country.

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