By Joshua Kirschenbaum and Jennifer DeNardis
Russia in recent years has been the most conspicuous source of illicit flows into European banks and the Western financial system. The Russian government weaponizes these opaque channels to export corruption, facilitate influence operations, and prop up the domestic patronage system. Despite a money laundering crackdown by the Central Bank of Russia (CBR), the country’s main financial supervisor, recent history poses serious questions about the effectiveness of the central bank, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors in combating illicit financial activity.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sets international anti-money laundering (AML) standards (PDF 6.37 MB) and evaluates its member states for compliance. It was created in 1989 and is housed at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Russia joined in 2003. FATF last evaluated Russia over a decade ago under the old “technical compliance” review process, which largely focused on the country’s legal framework. FATF now evaluates (PDF 1.51 MB) jurisdictions on the basis of the effectiveness of their AML regimes. The new method focuses on enforcement and outcomes. That makes this year’s FATF evaluation of Russia a unique opportunity to protect democratic countries from corrosive financial flows.
Should FATF conclude that Russia falls short, it could “greylist” the jurisdiction, which would have immediate reputational effects. It could ultimately lead to a process by which other FATF members, would require their financial institutions to take special steps in dealing with Russian banks. This would raise the cost of international business and banking in Russia. Such a decision against an FATF member state would be unprecedented but not necessarily unjustified. Continue reading