Author: Niall Hearty 30 March 2022
Australia has been criticised for having lax money laundering laws that could lead to it becoming a haven for Russian oligarchs looking to avoid sanctions.
Australia is one of only three countries that has not yet committed itself to bringing lawyers, accountants and real estate agents under the scope of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance laws (AML-CTF). Many commentators believe this makes the country attractive to the many individuals and entities with links to Russian leader Vladimir Putin who have been sanctioned following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Eight years ago, Australia said it would ensure its AML-CTF system covered these professions, following a recommendation by the international money laundering watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). But as this has not happened, Australia could be put on the FATF “grey list” of countries that need increased monitoring as they do not meet international standards. This would damage its reputation but also hamper its financial system.
Recent submissions from accountants and real estate agents to an Australian Senate committee inquiry into its AML-CTF laws show that they are prepared to do some form of reporting to combat money laundering. But lawyers are opposed to such obligations, with the Law Council of Australia saying it would lead to professional privilege and confidentiality being undermined and add to costs.
While there were some changes to the AML-CTF rules last year that aimed to strengthen Australia’s anti-money laundering and terrorist framework, a considerable amount still needs to be done to meet international standards.
At present, Australia risks the embarrassment of being placed on the “grey list”. While condemning the Russian government’s action in Ukraine and endorsing the sanctions regime is worthwhile, it is insufficient when a void exists when it comes to the ability to tackle money laundering effectively.
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