Stephen Kinnock: I am conscious of time, so I would like to fire in a couple of quick questions on money laundering. Our entire panel will be aware of paragraph 82 of the political declaration, which explicitly commits both the EU and the UK to finding modes of co-operation on money laundering. It seems that so far the UK side has not put forward any proposals. Michel Barnier has expressed some concern about this. Professor Mitsilegas, why do you think that the UK seems to be uninterested or refusing to play ball on this important issue of money laundering?
Professor Mitsilegas: There may be two answers to that. The formal answer could be that this work can also be done in international fora. We have the Financial Action Task Force, which has been a key motor for the development of global standards in the field, and the UK is a key player in that. The EU’s concern, especially given the recent silence from the UK on this, is that they really want a level playing field. The concern is that the future UK regulation may be looser in terms of offshore jurisdictions and tax havens. This is a very high priority for the EU. That is probably why you have this concern expressed on behalf of the EU negotiators.
Stephen Kinnock: Do you think that could be the reason that the British Government are not putting forward proposals—because part of their strategy is to turn the United Kingdom into a tax haven?
Professor Mitsilegas: I am not in the mind of the UK Government, but if I was negotiating on behalf of the UK Government, this would cross my mind.
Stephen Kinnock: Deputy Commissioner Martin, is the lack of proposals on money laundering from the UK side a cause of concern for you? If there is no clear co-operation agreement on money laundering, would that be a significant hindrance to your work?
Richard Martin: I am not sure at what point or when that may come in Government negotiations. From a general point of view, money laundering is important to us. We chase the money, we make it very painful for the criminal and they do not profit from their activities. For us, it is a very important part, but I do not know at what point that may come in from a negotiation point of view. For us, it is important that we continue to push that, but it is a governmental decision and approach in the negotiations.
Stephen Kinnock: I guess there is a serious counterterrorism issue here as well, because money laundering is a very important element within the counterterrorism strategy.
Richard Martin: Yes, but counterterrorism has its own ability to carry out operations—legislation which is not governed by the EU. From a counterterrorism point of view, they have more influence and powers available to them.
Stephen Kinnock: To ask for some concluding remarks from both of you, is there anything missing in terms of legal text that you would have expected to be included on money laundering? Does what the EU has proposed as legal text on money laundering cover what is required? Do you see any reason why the UK should not sign up to that?
Professor Mitsilegas: The text, in my view, is worded in general terms and it requires further co-operation in the future. This is an ever-evolving field. New standards are produced almost on a yearly basis. The EU wants to make sure that the UK is part of the global efforts and there is a degree of alignment in the objectives.
Stephen Kinnock: Deputy Commissioner Martin, would you agree that some kind of dynamic alignment with this money laundering text and legal process would be helpful, both to your own services and to the European Union?
Richard Martin: Yes, absolutely. If I am honest, I concur with the professor’s last comments. It is very important that we are in alignment. It is a global issue; it is global crime groups that are moving money around. If we are in alignment, it makes us much more effective from an operational point of view.