Law enforcement access to financial information: European Council adopts negotiating position
The European Union (EU) is improving access to financial information by financial intelligence units and law enforcement authorities in order to strengthen the fight against terrorism and serious crime.
EU ambassadors yesterday (21 November) agreed the Council’s negotiating position on a directive laying down the rules facilitating the use of financial and other information for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of certain criminal offences.
Herbert Kickl, Minister of the Interior of Austria, has remarked that “criminals who have several bank accounts in one or more countries can transfer money in a matter of hours. To ensure that law enforcement authorities are able to investigate, and when necessary freeze, these assets before they are gone, they need direct and fast access to financial information. The proposed rules will provide a clear framework in which this information can be accessed and exchanged”.
Bank account registries
The existing EU directive on the prevention of money laundering requires member states to establish centralised bank account registries or data retrieval systems allowing the timely identification of the persons holding bank and payment accounts and safe deposit boxes. It also makes the information held in those registries directly accessible to financial intelligence units. The agreed negotiating position requires that member states:
-ensure that the competent law enforcement authorities also have the power to access and search directly and immediately bank account information for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of certain criminal offences
-ensure that financial intelligence units are entitled to reply in a timely manner to requests for financial information or analysis from the competent law enforcement authorities
define which are the competent authorities to directly access bank account information (including at least asset recovery offices) and to request information or analysis from the financial intelligence units, and notify the Commission
– ensure that its designated competent authorities are required to reply in a timely manner to requests for law enforcement information by the national financial intelligence unit
– ensure the competent authorities and the financial intelligence unit are entitled to reply (either directly or through the Europol national unit) to duly justified requests related to bank account and financial information made by Europol
On the basis of this mandate, the Council Presidency will start negotiations with the European Parliament once the latter has adopted its position.
Existing anti-money laundering rules at EU level focus primarily on the internal market or criminal law aspects. On 17 April 2018, the European Commission presented a proposal for a directive to strengthen the legal framework from the point of view of law enforcement cooperation, to make sure the competent authorities can have timely access to the necessary information to prevent and investigate serious crime and terrorism.