NEWS

Bid to stamp out money laundering

A draft law targeting money laundering and the funding of terrorist organizations was unveiled by the government yesterday, proposing that authorities be given unprecedented powers to investigate private financial data and impose up to 10-year jail sentences. The legislation was presented by Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras and Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis. If passed, the bill would place Greece in line with a 2001 European Union directive on prevention of the use of the financial system for money laundering. Greece was one of six EU members that was accused of dragging its feet over adopting the directive by the European Commission last year. The EU’s executive body threatened to take the six states, including France and Italy, to the European Court of Justice. The directive was supposed to have been integrated into national legislation by June 2003. It builds on a previous EU law and requires strict client identification, record keeping and reporting of suspicious transactions in a wider range of fields such as for real estate agents and lawyers. A key element of the draft law is that it will give an expert panel the right to look into state and private data. The panel will have the authority to steamroll over any privacy rights – provided there is a suspicion that someone may be laundering money or be involved in the financing of terrorist activities. The panel will also have the power to seize assets in such cases. One of the bill’s articles sets out three broad types of offenses, which can carry between three months and 10 years in jail. Crimes within the first of these categories include any «dirty money» used for or gained from human trafficking, electronic fraud, terrorist activities and bribing of state and EU officials as well as accepting bribes. The other two categories involve acts that result in the gain of more than 4,000 euros, divided according to whether they are criminal acts or misdemeanors which carry a three-month jail sentence. Significantly, the bill also forces lawyers to break their client-attorney privilege and divulge information about suspicious transactions. Banks, financial institutions, accountants, tax inspectors and both Internet-based and regular casinos will be required to pass on details about suspicious customers.