EU to ban cryptocurrency anonymity in anti-money laundering plan

New agency would enforce requirement for crypto providers to verify users’ identities

European commissioner in charge of financial services Maireád McGuinness said: ‘Those involved in the cryptocurrencies space will now realise that anonymity is gone.’ File photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/EPA

European commissioner in charge of financial services Maireád McGuinness said: ‘Those involved in the cryptocurrencies space will now realise that anonymity is gone.’ File photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/EPA

 

The European Commission wants to end anonymity in cryptocurrencies and establish a new anti-money laundering agency to enforce tougher rules in a plan to crack down on the proceeds from crime.

The proposals launched by financial services commissioner Maireád McGuinness aim to “improve the detection of suspicious transactions and activities, and to close loopholes used by criminals to launder illicit proceeds or finance terrorist activities through the financial system”, the commission said in a statement.

Money laundering is a major problem within the European Union. According to estimates by Europol, roughly 1 per cent of the EU’s economic activity involves suspicious transactions.

The proposals to tighten money-laundering safeguards come amid pressure on Europe to increase enforcement, after several countries began investigating Danish multinational Danske Bank as it came to light that more than €200 billion in suspicious transactions passed through its small Estonian subsidiary between 2007 and 2015.

The new plan includes extending existing anti-money laundering regulation that applies to financial services to “the entire crypto sector”, requiring all cryptocurrency service providers to verify the identity of those sending and receiving transactions. In addition, “anonymous crypto asset wallets will be prohibited” under the plan, which also bans cash payments of more than €10,000.

“Those involved in the cryptocurrencies space will now realise that anonymity is gone,” Ms McGuinness told The Irish Times. The identity of all owners of virtual assets, senders or receivers of transactions would have to be verified by crypto service providers.

“This identifies who’s sending, who’s receiving, and it will allow us all to track suspicious transactions,” Ms McGuinness added, saying the rules would bring the crypto sector in line with the rest of the financial industry.

“Same activity, same risk, same rules. So in other words, we’re just asking those who are engaged in the crypto sphere to be covered in the same way as their counterparts.”

New authority

The new proposals would establish a new anti-money laundering authority, which would directly supervise the riskiest financial institutions and help co-ordination between national bodies on cross-border flows of cash. The new rules would connect national registers of bank accounts and provide law-enforcement agencies with access to the system, “speeding up financial investigations and the recovery of criminal assets in cross-border cases”, the commission said.

An overhaul of EU rules would bring member states into line with one another and ensure “criminals cannot shop between member states to find areas where they can target their funds”, Ms McGuinness said.

“I think from a global point of view this is a very strong statement from the European Union, about our determination to root out money laundering,” Ms McGuinness said.

“I think sometimes when we talk about money laundering we neglect to talk about the rotten crimes that are where this money comes from, whether it’s child prostitution or drug abuse,” she added.

“We shouldn’t allow those who are criminals at the worst level to become wealthy, and to have their wealth accumulated in our financial system.”