In 31 March, ACAMS was privileged to host the “Anti-Financial Crime Symposium—Baltics” in Vilnius. About 250 Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian anti-financial crime (AFC) professionals from the private sector and government were delighted by the opportunity to meet face-to-face for the first time in more than two years. Their joy, however, was mixed with a grim resolve to implement the numerous and complex sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU, the US and others in response to the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
In Vilnius, where a giant banner promising Putin “the Hague is waiting for you” hangs from a large downtown building, digital displays on every city bus flash a message of solidarity—“Vilnius Loves Ukraine.” Similar displays, I am assured, can be seen in Riga and Tallinn, the Latvian and Estonian capitols.
Referring to Ukrainians as “brothers,” conference attendees said making the sanctions work was the least they could do, despite the pressures their already overworked teams face to keep up. “We’re actually thankful the sanctions are often issued just before the weekend,” one senior bank compliance official shared over coffee because that timing gives his stretched staff two extra days to successfully implement the new sanctions.
That the region takes the Ukraine invasion very personally is rooted in all too recent mid- and late-twentieth century history.
“[Ukraine] fights for themselves and all of us in the Baltic states,” Ilze Znotina, head of Latvia’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), who spoke at the conference, says in a recent “Financial Crime Matters” podcast. Znotina explains that, were it not for their membership in the EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Baltic states see Ukraine’s fate as theirs.
Znotina’s statement is especially powerful considering that, prior to 24 February 2022, there was a great deal of speculation about the future of the EU, including which member state would be the next to follow Britain’s Brexit example.
Instead, this issue of ACAMS Today Europe and the upcoming “ACAMS Europe Conference” in Brussels on 14-15 June come at a time of unprecedented unity among EU member states, save a couple of outliers. That unity, it turns out, is essential for fighting financial crime and much more.
As EU member states reach a consensus on common definitions of crime and share financial intelligence that will result in enforcement actions and prosecutions of criminals, whether they reside in the EU or beyond, European (and, by extension, global) AFC professionals are coming together in the face of the Russia threat and the broader threat from financial criminals. As detailed in our cover story, Harmonisation of the EU AML framework, the EU is on the verge of implementing centralised oversight of large financial and other institutions to prevent money laundering, terrorist financing, weapons proliferation, ransomware and other financial crimes.
In reflecting on the challenges for the Latvian FIU at the outset of her term as director—including the collapse of ABLV Bank following its designation as a primary money laundering concern by the US Treasury and the Financial Action Task Force’s threatened grey listing—Znotina says that the controls subsequently put in place mean it can now identify sanctioned Russian funds, which is “the only tool we have right now to block the aggressor.”
It is fair to say the stakes are high. Common compliance standards are not only “just about the prosperity [of the country and its banking system], some enormous benefit of course, [but] also about security” for Latvia, the region and by extension, the EU and its allies, Znotina concludes.
In the spirit of enhancing the security of EU member states from both financial crime and hostile states, the upcoming Europe conference will offer two days of keynote speakers and special presentations as well as panels on sanctions, crypto, fintech, fraud and the day one Regulatory Outlook: Trends and Emerging Issues in Europe. It is my privilege to moderate the regulatory panel and I look forward to seeing many of you in Brussels.
Kieran Beer, CAMS
Chief Analyst, Director of Editorial Content
Follow me on Twitter: @KieranBeer
“Financial Crime Matters with Kieran Beer”
- Kieran Beer, “Making Russian Sanctions Stick and Fighting Financial Crime, with Ilze Znotina,” Financial Crimes Matters, 16 May 2022, https://soundcloud.com/financialcrimematters/ilze-znotina