TALLINN – Representatives of over 6,000 businesses, freelance professionals and nonprofits responded to a questionnaire on awareness about and experiences concerning the prevention of money laundering and terrorist finance put before them by the Estonian Ministry of Finance this summer.
The information garnered from the responses serves as an important input to national risk assessment that is aimed towards higher-quality management of the risks related to money laundering and terrorist finance in Estonia, spokespeople for the Ministry of Finance said.
Toomas Vapper, head of the department for entrepreneurship and accounting policy at the Ministry of Finance, said that the ministry getting 6,000 voluntary responses to the questionnaire demonstrates readiness on the part of businesses and NPOs from very different fields of activity to make a contribution to the dangers and risks related to money laundering getting charted as precisely as possible.
"A risk-based approach, which must ensure that efforts are directed specifically towards the sectors where the risks are highest, is the backbone of our fight against money laundering," Vapper said, adding that the survey provides an important input for identifying both the riskier and the less risky sectors.
He said that with the national risk assessment to be completed at the beginning of 2021, the specific sectors, fields of activity, transaction volumes and kinds of transactions of higher risk, and also the countries or jurisdictions if necessary, will be determined with regard to which banks and other persons subject to the requirements must apply stepped-up diligence measures.
It may also be revealed that in certain sectors the risk of money laundering and terrorist finance is lower, which would allow to reduce the administrative burden for those sectors by means of easing their diligence requirements.
The official pointed out that where activity in responding to the questionnaire was very high among respondents in some sectors, such as organizers of gaming and nonprofits, greater activity would have been expected from others, such as receivers in bankruptcy and sellers of antiquities. In the preparation of further risk assessments, the ministry will look into whether such passiveness is linked to the degree of risk or is attributable to other reasons.
In recent years, Estonia has come under greater attention globally when it comes to the topic of money laundering. Potential cases of large-scale money laundering are being investigated in several countries which also have a link to Estonia. The continuous attention linked with this has made the Estonian financial sector's international cooperation partners more cautious.
Internationally, countries are assessed when it comes to the risks related to money laundering by the Council of Europe's expert committee on combating money laundering and terrorist finance, titled Moneyval, which will next year start analyzing the conduct of the national risk assessment in Estonia.
The risk assessment will for the first time take place using a methodology developed for Estonia on the basis of the methodology of the World Bank. The conduct of the assessment will be coordinated by a governmental committee for the prevention of money laundering and terrorist finance and led by a steering group specially set up for it.
As the next step in the national risk assessment, workgroups will chart and analyze information garnered from questionnaires as well as other workflows to identify the country's risks and vulnerabilities and then draw up a work plan for addressing the weak spots.
"Broad involvement of the public and the private sectors in these workgroups is critical both for the span of the fight against money laundering as well as sharing the related workload," Vapper said.
The national risk assessment is conducted on a regular basis, with the last such assessment carried out in 2015. It will be done in the future with intervals of a couple of years, and the goal is for the process or parts thereof be automatized if possible.
This time, the questionnaire was sent primarily to companies active in the financial sector, but also property developers and brokers, organizers of gaming, various providers of professional consulting services, such as auditors, attorneys and accountants. The questionnaires were sent also to businesses and organizations, including NGOs, from several other areas which might come into contact with attempts at money laundering or financing of terrorism.