The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has told UK banks to be on the alert for attempts at money laundering and financing terrorism amid fears of resurgent terrorist activity in Afghanistan.

“Developments in Afghanistan have highlighted the continuing need for robust systems and controls that respond to changing risks,” the financial watchdog says in a new release.

The FCA urges banks to be aware of the possible impact events in Afghanistan may have on patterns of financial activity when they assess risks related to particular customers and flows of funds.

“We expect firms to establish and maintain systems and controls to counter the risk they might be used to further financial crime,” the regulator says.

Fighting money laundering and terrorist financing contributes to global security, integrity of the financial system and sustainable growth.

Laws to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism are designed to prevent the financial market from being misused for these purposes.

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Risk assessment, customer due diligence, and transaction monitoring

Excerpts from the FCA’s release follow:

Firms must also comply with their legal obligations under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (‘MLRs’ as amended).

In the MLRs provisions related to firm risk assessments (Regulations 18), customer due diligence (Regulation 27-32), enhanced due diligence (Regulation 33) and transaction monitoring (Regulations 28(11)) are particularly relevant in this context.

While Afghanistan is not currently listed as a high-risk jurisdiction in Schedule 3ZA of the MLRs, firms are required by Regulation 33(1)(a) to apply risk sensitive enhanced due diligence measures where there is a high risk of money laundering or terrorist financing, Regulation 33(6) sets out factors that firms may use in their assessment including, but not limited to, country risks.

Banks must continue to report suspicious activity to UKFIU

The FCA urges banks to consider the impact of these developments on their anti-money laundering policies and procedures in a risk-based manner, and to take the steps necessary to ensure they continue to meet their legal and regulatory anti-money laundering and reporting obligations.

Specifically, firms should:

  • ensure that they appropriately monitor and assess transactions to Afghanistan to mitigate the risks if their firm being exploited to launder money or finance terrorism
  • continue to ensure that suspicious activity is reported to the UK Financial Intelligence Unit (UKFIU) at the National Crime Agency (NCA) and that they meet their obligations under Money Laundering Regulations and terrorist financing legislation

Sanctions are already in place in respect of Afghanistan. Firms should continue to screen against the UK Sanctions List and in particular the regime specific list for Afghanistan.

The FCA’s expectations of firms systems and controls in relation to compliance with financial sanctions are set out in FCG 6 of our Financial Crime Guide.