Belgium - "Europe’s stand-out weak link"

Belgium – “Europe’s stand-out weak link”

Belgium – the “Jihadi capital of Europe” – is the European Union’s (EU) most lenient country on money laundering despite its role in terrorist financing, according to anti-money laundering (AML) firm Fortytwo Data.

With refreshing frankness in the usually jargon-soaked and platitude-drenched world of fintech, Fortytwo Data says the EU’s disjointed approach to the fight against money laundering was laid bare as it emerged Belgium has a maximum sentence of five years, the lowest of any EU country.

Julian Dixon, CEO at Fortytwo Data, says: “It is remarkable and deeply concerning that such weak sentencing powers are found in a country that has acted as a staging post for international terror.

“Terrorists cannot operate without funds and that money must often be moved across international borders. This is why tackling money laundering is crucial in the fight against terrorism but the EU and its allies must speak with one voice.”

The strictest country, Bulgaria, has a maximum sentence six times higher at 30 years. In Malta, the maximum sentence when linked to drugs offences is life.

In some countries, including Belgium, there can be a separate offence of terrorist financing attracting harsher sentences but this offence can be more difficult to prosecute.

Analysis of criminal sanctions by Fortytwo Data has revealed the wider offence of money laundering is subject to an “incredible imbalance” in sentencing powers across the EU.

The company’s study revealed that Belgium – which according to Fortytwo Data is home of “Jihadi capital of Europe” Molenbeek – is “Europe’s stand-out weak link”.

Brussels district Molenbeek is where Paris terror attacker Salah Abdeslam was caught alive by police last year after he and six accomplices killed 130 people at various sites across Paris in November 2015.

The Molenbeek area has become known as a hotbed of extremists and is reportedly home to 51 groups with suspected terror links.

In March, last year a further 32 people were killed when jihadists, also with links to Molenbeek, attacked the airport and metro in Brussels with three co-ordinated suicide bombings.

Last year, more people per capita from Belgium had travelled to join terror groups like Islamic State in Syria than any other EU country.

The European Commission’s (EC) deadline for applying its 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive (4AMLD) passed only last month.

However, the Commission has already had to write to 17 member states over their failure to implement the new rules in time. The only countries to meet the deadline were Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

And the EU has been in the same situation before.

In 2008 the EU announced it was pursuing infringement proceedings against 15 member states –  Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Slovakia – for missing the same deadline for 3AMLD.

The EU Commission can ultimately refer infringements to the European Court of Justice.

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