From 16 to 18 January 2017, Europol, Interpol and the Basel Institute on Governance jointly organised the Global Conference on Money Laundering and Digital Currencies in Doha, Qatar.
The event was attended by more than 400 financial investigators from money laundering, cybercrime and financial intelligence units, together with experts in asset recovery and relevant private sector representatives. One of the main focuses of the conference was the misuse of digital currencies by criminals and terrorist financiers to launder money and support other criminal activities.
The conference was a direct result of the partnership established in September 2016 dedicated to investigating money laundering involving virtual currencies. The event was also in line with another objective of a working group (of Europol, Interpol and the Basel Institute on Governance), which aims to create a network of experts to share best practices, as well as provide operational assistance and policy recommendations.
In his speech, Simon Riondet, the Head of Financial Intelligence at Europol, stressed: “Digital currencies are now undoubtedly part of the payment system. Their use is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years. And understandably so, since they improve payment efficiency, reduce transaction and fund transfer costs, while facilitating international remittances. But the other side of this narrative is that they are also a powerful new tool for criminals and terrorist financiers to convert, remit and conceal illicit funds from law enforcement authorities.”
At the end of the conference, participants agreed upon a set of conclusions which included:
- Increase information sharing in the field of money laundering and digital currencies, with particular emphasis on the exchange of suspicious Bitcoin addresses that threaten economic stability
- Regulate digital currency exchangers and wallet providers under current anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing legislation in line with obligations already pending with the financial sector
- Take action against digital currency mixers/tumblers, designed to anonymise transactions, which burdens the work of law enforcement agencies to detect and trace suspicious transactions.
Europol recognises the danger that virtual currencies pose in the hands of criminals and terrorists and is prepared to face the challenges that lay ahead. In December 2016, Europol supported an operation that led to the dismantling of a criminal network believed to be one of the biggest vendors of counterfeit euro currency online. Bitcoin was used as cryptocurrency to pay for the counterfeit banknotes. As a result, eight individuals were arrested. This operation proves once again that cooperation between law enforcement, and information exchange, are key elements in combating the misuse of virtual currencies.