Proposals published by the UK Treasury under the Fifth Anti-Money-Laundering Directive (5MLD) could actively prevent the reporting of criminal financing, according to campaigners.
A policy published earlier this year proposed that journalists and researchers would have to disclose their own evidence of a data subject’s wrongdoing in order to access the updated register of beneficiaries of UK financial trusts, drawn up under 5MLD.
A group of 80 non-governmental organisations and concerned media figures, including journalists from the Times, the BBC, and The Guardian, have warned this week that the move – designed to prevent so-called “speculative enquiries” – risks undermining legitimate reporting.
This is because submitting evidence they have gathered of money laundering, corruption, or terrorist financing upfront to HMRC could trigger an official investigation, which is likely to prevent journalists’ research being published, perhaps for many years.
It could also obstruct journalists from ‘joining the dots’ in their enquiries, by creating a Catch-22 for investigators: in order to prove that criminal actions or corruption have taken place, they will first have to prove that they have taken place.
Campaigners from anti-corruption group Global Witness appear to believe this could lead to media investigations being buried or hushed up – concerns they have expressed to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a letter.
The letter was disclosed at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London this week. “The success of this summit offers the opportunity for the UK government to set the gold standard for an environment that enables journalists to hold the powerful to account,” said the group.
“Sadly, the government’s current approach to implementing a key piece of legislation to combat money laundering – the fifth anti-money laundering directive – does not meet this standard. It appears designed to frustrate journalists and researchers from accessing and ultimately reporting on vital information about the beneficiaries of the opaque system of financial trusts that have tax liabilities in the UK.
“The UK government’s proposal for transposing this directive into national law restricts this legitimate interest to see and report on this information by requiring journalists and researchers to present evidence of wrongdoing before accessing the register, completely undermining the objectives of 5MLD.”
Ironically, changes made under 5MLD were triggered by the Panama Papers investigations, led by Süddeutsche Zeitung and published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the BBC, The Guardian, and many others.
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