Football and golden visas: Vast sums of money with questionable origins draw AML and terror-financing scrutiny
European football and golden visas are new additions to the EU’s list of things that present a high risk of money laundering and terror financing. Also new to the list are free ports, which are free economic zones with relaxed regulations related to trade regulations and declarations.
The report, released by the EU in late July, describes the “supranational risk assessment of money laundering and terror financing risks affecting the European union.”
While this is football’s first time formally identified in this series of EU reports, both the EU and the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have long identified football as rife with financial crime. These crimes include money laundering, corruption, tax evasion, bribery, and more. The European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) has reported widely on financial crimes in European football, and FIFA scandals have dominated news in recent years. And corruption scandals have rocked South American football as well.
In a May 2019 review of Europe’s ‘Football Leaks’ scandal and the magnitude of financial crime in the sport, the New Yorker assessed the value of the football industry in Europe at US $28 billion.
While football is the highest profile addition to items at high risk for money laundering and terror financing, the free ports and golden visas are drawing attention, as well.
The free ports, of which there are approximately 80 in the EU and territories, are economic zones with substantially less regulation of customs and trade. The reduced oversight creates opportunities for tampering with paperwork, countries of origin, ownership, and so on.
The golden-visa risk, which is relatively new, relates to schemes by EU countries to encourage investment and sell residency to the ultra-rich from countries from which they stole that wealth or countries that are less stable for the ultra-rich.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reported, for example, that a passport for Cyprus may be purchased for €2 million. And a residency visa in Greece or Latvia costs upwards of a quarter million euros. Transparency International has reported extensively on this topic, and they note that in the last decade more than 6,000 new citizens and over 100,000 new residents have been welcomed by European countries through the golden-visa schemes. Transparency International identifies oligarchs, kleptocrats, and similarly questionable tycoons as the most prominent purchasers of these privileges.
The European Union has vowed to track these various high risks more closely as it works to improve its AML/CTF Compliance regime.
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