In an ever-evolving landscape of global finance, safeguarding against financial crime has become paramount. Money laundering, terrorism financing, and proliferation financing are three ominous specters haunting the international financial stage, threatening economic growth and social stability through illicit flows of funds and illegal activities.
The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) has not remained idle in the face of these challenges. Over the last two years, it has embarked on a remarkable journey to confront these threats head-on, with the tireless efforts of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) and the Financial and Cyber Crime Prevention unit (FCCP) at the forefront.
To portray these efforts, ADGM has published its inaugural Financial Crime Report for 2021-2022, which offers a comprehensive overview of the institution’s collaborative efforts with other UAE authorities to combat the risks associated with Money Laundering, Terrorism Financing, and Proliferation Financing.
The Dynamic Duo: FSRA and FCCP
The FSRA, as the competent authority for Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Targeted Financial Sanctions (TFS) compliance within ADGM, is committed to upholding a robust regulatory framework. Its mission is to create a safe haven for Financial Institutions (FIs) and Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions (DNFBPs) to operate within ADGM. By adopting a progressive, proactive, and comprehensive Anti-Financial Crime (AFC) regulatory framework, the FSRA is leading the charge in promoting sound practices in financial crime prevention.
The FCCP, on the other hand, plays a crucial role in tackling Money Laundering, Counter Financing of Terrorism, Counter Proliferation Financing, and compliance with international tax reporting obligations like the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). What sets the FCCP apart is its agility, as it adopts a Risk-Based Approach (RBA) and harnesses financial innovation to combat the constantly evolving landscape of financial crimes.
Strategic Objectives and Work-Streams
The strategic objectives and work-streams of the FSRA and FCCP read like a roadmap to a safer financial future:
- Supporting Growth through Regulatory Framework Development: ADGM aims to create a robust and effective financial crime prevention regulatory framework, positioning itself as a global role model.
- Being a Regulator of Excellence: Engaging with stakeholders and raising awareness within the ADGM community is a priority, enhancing its reputation in financial crime prevention and compliance.
- Strengthening and Enhancing FCCP Approach: This includes developing a macro regulatory role in financial crime prevention, increasing awareness, and ensuring a deep understanding of financial crime risks and mitigation.
- Becoming a Regional Leader: ADGM strives to lead in business efficiency, professionalism, and knowledge development, embracing new technology for operational efficiency and risk mitigation.
National AML/TFS Agenda
Since the publication of the FATF Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) for the UAE in April 2020, ADGM has been unwavering in its support for the UAE’s progress. Monitoring programs, thematic reviews, and compliance evaluations form the bedrock for rigorous and ongoing supervision. In line with the FATF Recommendations, ADGM has imposed penalties and other regulatory actions for AML breaches to deter such behavior, demonstrating substantial progress against the national agenda.
ADGM has also played a pivotal role in discussions and policy development through its involvement in the UAE National Anti-Money Laundering and Combatting Financing of Terrorism and Financing of Illegal Organizations Committee (NAMLCFTC) and six Supervisory Sub Committees (SSC). These committees ensure technical compliance with FATF Recommendations and national laws, fostering joint guidance and typologies on a national level.
This comprehensive effort highlights ADGM’s dedication to ensuring a secure financial environment and puts it at the forefront of global financial guardians.
Building a Robust Framework
ADGM, in conjunction with the Emirates’ regulatory bodies, has laid the foundation for a comprehensive AML and CFT framework. Over the past two years, FSRA has been actively involved in several AML and CFT awareness sessions, delivering essential insights to Financial Institutions (FIs), Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions (DNFBPs), and Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs).
These sessions have been instrumental in educating entities about the latest techniques employed by terrorist financiers and proliferators to mask their financial activities, emphasizing the need for vigilant compliance with UAE regulations.
Empowering the Private Sector
ADGM has also actively encouraged firms to participate in the DOLFIN E-learning platform, which offers specialized training modules designed to raise awareness about the implementation of Targeted Financial Sanctions (TFS) in accordance with UAE laws. Through this initiative, FSRA aims to ensure the private sector possesses the requisite knowledge to combat sanctions evasion.
Addressing Virtual Assets
It is worth noting that the rise of virtual assets has presented both opportunities and challenges. ADGM was one of the pioneers in establishing a robust regulatory framework for virtual asset activities. It recognized the need for stringent controls in this sector, considering the inherent risks of money laundering and terrorism financing.
Under the framework, it has issued licenses and permits to global players, ensuring compliance with strict criteria aimed at preventing financial crime.
The use of virtual assets has raised concerns due to factors like user anonymity and the ease of cross-border transactions. To counter these threats, ADGM’s FSRA has insisted that AML rules be applied equally to virtual asset activities, aligning its standards with the UAE-wide Federal AML Legislation.
Travel Rule and Beyond
In alignment with global standards, ADGM has adhered to the “Travel Rule,” requiring Financial Institutions (FIs) to exchange information on beneficiaries and originators. This rule also applies to virtual asset transfers, a significant move in preventing misuse by criminals.
In dealing with VASPs from other jurisdictions, ADGM has sought technological solutions to ensure compliance with the Travel Rule for cross-border transactions. This includes issuing guidelines that outline the best practices for adhering to this rule.
Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing
ADGM recognizes the importance of collaboration in strengthening its financial crime oversight. It actively works with federal authorities to provide feedback and guidance to the sector, identifying and mitigating risks associated with virtual assets. Participation in sectoral risk assessments at the national level highlights the commitment to addressing these challenges.
Electronic ‘Know Your Customer’
In a digital age, ADGM adapted by amending its AML Rulebook in 2022 to include electronic ‘Know Your Customer’ (eKYC) procedures. This revision allows businesses to verify customer identities digitally, enhancing efficiency in the onboarding process.
These changes align with global recommendations, reflecting ADGM’s commitment to staying at the forefront of AML and CFT best practices.
Enhancing Awareness and Training
The effort to combat financial crime extends to enhancing awareness among Relevant Persons. ADGM’s efforts have included a series of workshops and awareness sessions in collaboration with the Financial Crime Prevention Unit, the Financial Intelligence Unit, and other key entities.
These sessions cover various topics, including Typology and Red Flags related to Terrorism Financing, enhancing AML practices, and improving Suspicious Activity Reports.
In conclusion, ADGM’s FSRA is resolute in its mission to strengthen the UAE’s financial oversight. By building a robust framework, encouraging compliance in the private sector, addressing challenges posed by virtual assets, and fostering collaboration, ADGM aims to stay at the forefront of international AML and CFT efforts.
With an emphasis on technological adaptation and continuous training, it is evident that ADGM is taking a proactive approach to safeguard its financial landscape from the threats of financial crime.