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Kicking out corruption: EU’s AML measures target soccer’s billions

The EU is stepping up its game against money laundering and CTF, extending its regulatory net to include the high-stakes world of professional soccer.

With the sport’s leading football clubs in the EU generating more than €4.5bn in the 2021/2022 season, and leagues in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain bringing in a total revenue of €10.9bn, the financial stakes are immense. This financial clout, combined with the sport’s visibility, makes it a potential target for money laundering activities, prompting the EU to act decisively.

Why the beautiful game is under scrutiny is not without reason. The realm of European football has not been immune to corruption scandals, and there’s growing concern over its use as a vehicle for laundering money. High-profile cases of kleptocratic wealth and oligarchs forced to divest from clubs due to government sanctions have only added to the urgency of implementing robust AML frameworks within the sport.

The EU’s new AML directives require soccer clubs, agents, and associations to engage in comprehensive risk assessments, conduct due diligence, monitor ongoing financial activities, and report any suspicious transactions. This approach is not just about compliance; it’s aimed at fundamentally altering how the soccer industry perceives and tackles financial risks, with a particular focus on identifying beneficial ownership and enhancing sanctions screening.

Across the English Channel, the UK is considering its regulatory options to ensure its football clubs adhere to financial regulations, despite the global popularity and financial success of the English Premier League. The challenge of enforcing AML regulations in an industry flush with cash and often outpacing the resources of enforcement agencies cannot be underestimated.

The precedent for AML measures in other luxury sectors underscores the evolving nature of financial regulation and the imperative for industries to adapt swiftly. The introduction of AML laws in soccer is a clear signal that no sector is immune from scrutiny, and the onus is on those within the game to align with best practices expeditiously.

For clubs and associated entities new to the rigors of AML compliance, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the financial sector and other regulated industries. Assessing risks, defining a clear compliance roadmap, and adopting data-led, risk-based remediation strategies are critical steps. Moreover, entities like Moody’s offer tailored AML due diligence and risk monitoring frameworks, underscoring the importance of specialised support in navigating these complex regulatory waters.

Digital transformation and the adoption of intelligent, real-time screening processes are vital for maintaining compliance and managing risk effectively. The new EU regulations offer both a challenge and an opportunity for the soccer industry to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and integrity, ensuring the beautiful game remains just that, unmarred by financial scandal.

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