You know what a stickybeak I am – if anyone asks, even very quietly, for an opinion on anything to do with money laundering or AML, I’m in there. At the moment the UK government is running a very low-key consultation on its SAR regime – you can see the “Call for Information” here, and you have until 25 March 2015 to stick your own beak in. I have of course submitted the Thoughts of Grossey.
One of the things the “Call for Information” asks about is the consent timetable, which we have here in the UK. This is probably best explained in the Home Office’s own words: “A reporter can avail themselves of a defence against committing a money-laundering offence if they seek the consent of the NCA, under section 335 of POCA, to conduct a transaction or activity about which they have suspicions. There are two possibilities for eliminating this risk – actual consent under s.335(1) or ‘deemed’ consent under s.335(2). The NCA has seven working days to provide a notice of refusal. If such a notice is not provided, the reporter has deemed consent. If a notice is provided, the NCA has a further 31 days to take action in relation to the transaction.” I understand that such a timetable is quite rare: other jurisdictions of course have the consent system, but they do not put time limits on it. I vaguely remember it coming in, as a response to NCIS taking an age to respond to such requests. (For younger readers, NCIS preceded SOCA and no, the staff did not wear stovepipe hats and bustles – at least not at the same time.)
Anyway, in the consultation, the Home Office wonders whether the timetable is right. They ask several questions about it. To start with: are consent decisions made quickly enough? I couldn’t answer this one, as I don’t make SARs, but I should imagine that MLROs will say no – anything other than instantaneous is never going to be quick enough for someone hopping from foot to foot while waiting for consent. They then ask: if consent is refused, is the moratorium period [i.e. 31 calendar days] long enough, or is it too long? Now who is going to say no, make it longer – I want to have to keep my irate client sweet for at least six months? Surely the only people who would call for a longer moratorium period are the NCA. And finally, I suppose to gather information to support or refute the most common gripe of MLROs about the consent regime, they ask: if you have had to deal with delays in processing a transaction as the result of a consent SAR, could you provide real case examples where it is known that a transaction/deal has collapsed as a result of that delay. I notice that they ask only about actual collapse – not about the situations where the client is hammering on the door and demanding progress or explanations.
I don’t want to sound sniping – I think it is absolutely right that the SARs regime (and indeed every other aspect of the AML effort) should be reviewed periodically for effectiveness, proportionality and practicality. I simply look forward to reading the report detailing the (no doubt tear-stained) responses from MLROs.