Money laundering, terrorist financing and corruption have become the core issues of the past few decades with no end in sight. Certain politicians, businessmen and terrorists around the world have been using sophisticated methods that are open to loopholes for minting money in order to pursue their personal goals.
In August, a two-member international delegation from Simmons & Simmons, one of the world's foremost international law firms, presented a briefing on financial crime including anti-money laundering (AML) and anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) at the SAARC Young Parliamentarians Conference in Islamabad. I availed an opportunity to interview them to seek answers on the prospects of tackling pressing issues related to global financial crime including their personal experience as experts. The delegation comprised of Muneer Khan, partner and head of the firm's Middle East financial markets and global Islamic finance practices, and Sara Aslam, a Cambridge-educated corporate lawyer currently working at the firm's global headquarters in London.
I asked Muneer how money-laundering could be tackled in the SAARC region given the region's overall negative track recordin curbing the menace.Muneersaid,"The SAARC region is not unique to financial crime, as there are a number of global hotspots. The key is that it's not legislation on its own that can solve the problem.It's the right mindset and education that can bring change in the way the politicians, policy makers and security agencies collaborate."
Furthermore, he was of the opinion that training, awareness and appropriate regulation can greatly help achieve such goals. Thereafter, I shifted my focus on the kind of steps firms such as Simmons & Simmons are taking to advise governments and legal institutions on finding the roots of the money-trail on which Muneer stated that the work the firm does with financial institutions is important, as at some point criminals will often use such legitimate institutions to disguise their activities, with bank accounts being the primary means. He mentioned that one of the areas the firm advises financial institutions is on compliance with their regulatory obligations relating to anti-money laundering.
"Assistance is provided to develop appropriate policy frameworks and procedures to ensure that they follow their obligations relating to the combatting of both money laundering and terrorist financing," he emphasised. He added a very important step which was collaboration with governments, non-governmental organisations and other bodies to help them to identify ways in which the legislation in this area can be enhanced to achieve both global best practice and in order to work in the relevant local environment.
Since corruption has been institutionalisedacross the globe and recently a trickle-down effect has been witnessed, I also asked him about his suggestions to reduce the impact as an expert on financial crime. The first thing he proposed was to develop appropriate laws and regulations that are aligned with international best practice and the local context. He also mentioned that reasons need to be understood for why laws are not always enforced in order to identify appropriate solutions.
He further added, "Law enforcement agencies play a criticalrole in this regard and must be involved in the review and legislative development process to ensure practically workable systems are put into place. Financial crime, is increasingly being conducted in the digital world with cybercrime being conducted on a transnational level. Laws, regulations, systems and processes must therefore adapt to be able to address and deal with this level of sophisticated criminal activity."
Sara also provided some brief insight on herexperience at the conference and her presentation on financial crime. The first of the two questions for her was on the overall experience at the SAARC conference and how different it was in comparison to her past representations.
"SAARC Young Parliamentarians' Conference was an amazing experience. It opened my eyes to the views of young parliamentarians across the SAARC region. I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the discussion forums for the attendees. This, in particular, will stay with me for life - the respect, sincerity and energy with which topics such as AML and ABC were being discussed was fascinating."
Previously, Sara had hosted conferences as president of an international organisation. This time, it was not the activism that was being tapped into, but her legal expertise. The transition from student to work life has now taken place and being able to showcase that was a truly satisfying feeling for her.
This brought me to my final question about her presentation with Muneer that was focused on financial crime in the SAARC region. I specifically asked her about the steps that were required tominimise the threat posed by such crimes for pursuing better standards of living and ensuring economic stability.
She said, "Society, at large, needs to focus first and foremost on education. Education will teach individuals to aim for the highest standards from an early age and children's minds will be opened to a vast array of career options and a route to financial security."
As a lawyer, she believed that an independent and well-established legal system will be necessary for any society to flourish. She elaborated that if people are to pursue education and professional careers, then they need to know that they have rights that will be respected and honoured, and this includes a fair playing field free from bribery and corruption.
The writer is a geopolitical analyst at Business Plus. He can be reached at email@example.com and tweets @mhassankhan06