Response to money laundering scandal: evidence-informed or perception-driven?

Published date21 January 2020
Date21 January 2020
AuthorRonald F. Pol
Subject MatterFinancial risk/company failure,Financial crime
Response to money laundering
scandal: evidence-informed or
Ronald F. Pol
School of Law, La Trobe LawTech, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia,
and, Wellington, New Zealand
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to utilise underusedinformation in anti-money laundering rating
data to assist policymakingand research.
Design/methodology/approach This paper explores whatevidence hidden in plain sightin ofcial
anti-money laundering rating data reveals about claims justifying the expansion of money laundering
controlsin response to European bank scandals.
Findings A perceived lack of international coordination inuencing the policy response to a series of
alleged anti-money laundering breaches does not accord with the anti-money laundering industrys own
Practical implications Responding to new crises with supercial solutions without addressing
fundamental questions with a multi-disciplinary perspective risks repeating and extending a decade-long
cycle of ineffectivenessin efforts to mitigate the social and economic harms from prot-motivatedcrime.
Originality/value This paper draws fresh conclusions from the anti-money laundering industrys
maindataset, underused in policymaking and research.
Keywords Evaluation, Anti-money laundering, Outcomes, FATF, Policy effectiveness,
Prot-motivated crime
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Since its inception more than a quarter-century ago, the modern anti-money laundering
movement has been characterised by successfulglobal policy diffusion, tremendous growth
and constant change. It is also marked by inertia in two important areas. The compliance
with rules based on standardsoperating model remains unchanged since its hurried
development in 1990. Since that time also, the anti-money laundering movement has
remained persistently unable credibly to demonstrate effectiveness (Halliday et al., 2014;
Levi et al., 2018;Pol, 2018b, p. 294), yet its core model is still continually repeated and
extended. The extension of money laundering powers in Europe in response to a series of
bank scandals offers an illustrativeexample and policy conclusions.
2. Steadfast in the face of evidence of eectiveness gaps
For more than two decades, researchers identied signicant gaps between the intentions and
results of the modern anti-money laundering effort, including its core capacity to detect and
prevent serious prot-motivated crime and terrorism (Anand, 2011;Brzoska, 2016;
Postscript: This paper was submitted on 23 January 2019 with rating data to 22 January. It was
updated to 1 August 2019 with new rating data and consequential/minor amendments.
Journalof Money Laundering
Vol.23 No. 1, 2020
pp. 103-121
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JMLC-01-2019-0007
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Chaikin, 2009;Ferwerda, 2009;Findley et al., 2014;Harvey, 2008;Levi,2002, 2012;Levi and
Maguire, 2004;Levi and Reuter,2006, 2009;Naylor, 2005;Pol, 2018b;Reuter and Truman, 2004;
Rider, 2002a,2002b,2004;Sharman, 2011;Tsingou, 2010;van Duyne,2003, 2011;Verhage,
Assumptions or perceptions that the contemporary assessment and rating system
properly evaluate effectiveness are also contested. Researchersapplying a public policy lens
claim that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as global standard setter has
consistently failed to demonstrate credible evidence of the effectiveness of money
laundering controls (Halliday et al.,2014;Levi et al., 2018), and that a new effectiveness
methodology (operating since 2014) is, in its current form, inherently unable to assess
effectiveness as it purports (Pol, 2018a). Nor does the anti-money laundering mutual
evaluation processreect an evaluation system in the sense generally understood by public
policy and social science researchers,namely, how well an intervention does in achieving its
goals(Levi et al.,2018, p. 310).
The result of an anti-moneylaundering sub-discipline enmeshed in its own idiosyncratic
ofcialor dominantnarrative (Alldridge, 2016;Benson, 2016;Pol, 2018b), poorly
connected with importantinterdisciplinary issues of nance and societysuch as advances in
policy effectiveness and outcomes science, is increasingly apparent. The United Nations
success rateof anti-money laundering efforts is so low that the anti-money laundering
policy intervention has scarcely any effect on criminal nances (Europol, 2016;UNODC,
2011, pp. 7, 14, 119, 131) and, by implication, limited impact on the social and economic
harms caused by serious prot-motivatedcrime (Pol, 2018b, p. 296):
The proportion of criminal earnings seized by authorities does not even remotely approach tax
rates commonly applied to legitimate businesses. At less than one percent, the disruption of
criminal funds hardly constitutes a rounding error in the accounts of prot-motivated criminal
enterprises. In terms of the capacity materially and substantially to disrupt criminal nances and
the manifold harms caused by serious prot-motivated crime, current money laundering controls
appear almost completely ineective.
On 2009 data, the United Nations estimated that much less than 1 per cent (probably
around 0.2 per cent) of the proceeds of crime laundered via the nancial system are seized
and frozen(UNODC, 2011, p. 7). An updatedreview suggests that as little as 0.1 per cent of
criminal proceeds is successfullyconscated by authorities, with the proportion attributable
to money laundering regulations possibly as low as 0.02 per cent (author, forthcoming).
Nonetheless, the initial compliance with rules based on standardsmodel which began
nearly three decades ago continues unabated, unaffected by mounting evidenceillustrating
policy ineffectiveness on a grand scale, measured by the tiny proportion of criminal
proceeds successfullyintercepted.
A companion article (Pol, 2019) examines effectiveness from a different perspective,
using the anti-money launderingindustrys own data. This paper draws from those ndings
to identify what the industrys primary evidence base reveals about a core claim used to
justify the expansion of Europeanmoney laundering controls in response to a series of bank
3. Evidence about international cooperation hidden in plain sight
As outlined in the following section, a perceived cause or major contributor to the scale
and scope of alleged anti-money laundering breaches in European banks was a claimed
lack of international cooperation. Fortuitously, cooperation between international
authorities has long been regarded as important and features in both components of

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