Europol urges action after record number of money laundering tip-offs

Rob Wainwright, director of Europol. Brussels, 30 January. [Stephanie Lecocq/EPA]

The head of Europol is calling for tighter controls after an analysis found money laundering goes mostly without investigation, despite banks alerting police to record numbers of suspicious transactions.

European banks flagged almost one million transactions suspected of laundering money in 2014, the latest year for which data is available, the law enforcement agency said on Tuesday (5 September).

But only 1 in 10 of these was investigated and Europol is now urging banks to improve the data they provide to help law enforcement authorities to follow up.

“The most surprising thing is the consistent figure of 10% … investigated by police,” Europol’s Executive Director Rob Wainwright said, adding that laundering is driven in large part by the drugs trade. “We haven’t gone far enough.”

Europol’s analysis underscores the wide extent of money laundering in Europe, charting a steady rise to almost one million suspect cases in 2014.

That was 17% higher than the previous year and more than two thirds up on 2006, thanks partly to active reporting by some banks amid international efforts to tackle the problem.

In Italy alone, Europol found the sums of money involved in such transactions amounted to €164 billion in 2014 – roughly one tenth of the country’s economy.

However, Europol estimates the amount confiscated as a result of any police investigation was barely 1% of criminal proceeds in the European Union.

Wainwright said that the money being laundered was chiefly the proceeds of drug sales and that there had been a rise in the number of professional money laundering syndicates, who took a commission for their service.

“Drugs is still the single largest criminal sector,” he said. “That cash has to get into the system. It is used to fund the lifestyle of the criminal godfathers.”

Two-thirds of transactions suspected of laundering money in Europe come from Britain and the Netherlands, according to the report, although this is due in part to the size of the financial centres in London and Amsterdam.

In its analysis, the European Union police agency found that there were more than 350,000 suspicious cases in 2014 reported to the United Kingdom police authorities – roughly two thirds higher than in 2006.

Dutch authorities were alerted to 277,000 suspect transactions last year.

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