Is AML Playing Catch-Up to Bribery?

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Overall, home of Lords Bribery Act 2010 Committee's post-legislative scrutiny report published last month gives the Act a glowing review. Apart from minor issues on guidance presented to business, disapproval is reserved for investigation and enforcement as opposed to the regime itself. The requirement for police anti-bribery training, the slow pace of investigations, poor communication with suspects and also the importance of individual prosecutions following Deferred Prosecution Agreements are all commented on. These bugbears aside, the Committee declares the Bribery Act to be 'an excellent piece of legislation, which creates offences which are clear and all-embracing'.

Contrastingly, following its debut in February 2021, the OPBAS first-year assessment of legal and accountancy sector supervisory procedures published last Tuesday paints a bleaker picture for that fight against dirty money. The report identifies significant inconsistencies between the performance from the 22 Professional Body Supervisors and a conflict of interest between supervising AML and representing members' interests. Amongst a smorgasbord of worrying statistics, OPBAS reports that 23% of PBSs had undertaken no type of AML supervision at all, whilst 18% hadn't fully identified those these were supposed to be supervising.

So has AML become the poor cousin of anti-bribery? Recent big-ticket Deferred Prosecution Agreements which reports might suggest so. However, it is usually more a problem of timing than intent. Although AML is a priority for several years, the focus has traditionally been on the financial services industry immediately associated with potentially criminal assets, as opposed to the 'professional enablers' for example lawyers and accountants who also provide the power to facilitate or disrupt the flow. Furthermore, there has been no 'big bang' for AML akin to the Bribery Act, which was the very first significant new anti-bribery legislation for more than a century. Having now had nearly a decade to sleep in, it is no wonder it gives the impression to be the favoured child.

Whilst the OPBAS report may make for disappointing, occasionally alarming reading, it should be remembered that this is Year One. OPBAS was designed to promote quality and consistency of AML supervision amongst professional enablers, which is almost inevitable the first reviews could be poor. The key concern is whether and just how quickly future performance improves.