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Germany passes anti-money-laundering laws

November 15, 2019

Real estate agents, gold merchants and auction houses will be subject to tighter regulations in the future. Lawmakers complained that the US embassy and Apple tried to quash part of the law at the last minute.

Money laundering
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Kaiser

The German Parliament on Thursday passed a raft of anti-money-laundering measures to bring the country in line with EU directives. 

The reform packet imposes stricter regulation on real estate agents, notaries, precious metals dealers and auction houses to declare transactions to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing.

The laws still have to pass through the upper house of Parliament, the Bundesrat.

Real estate sector

Notaries and real estate agents in the property sector will have to follow tighter rules to report suspected money laundering cases. This includes any lease of more that €10,000 ($11,024) per month.

Read moreGermany in top 10 in global financial secrecy, study says

In its annual report last year, the government's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) noted an "extreme vulnerability" in Germany's real estate market when it comes to dubious business deals and the investigation of criminal activities. The FIU found that of the 77,252 cases of money laundering in Germany last year, about 3,800 involved the real estate sector.

Anti-corruption group Transparency International found that about €30 billion in illicit funds were funneled into German real estate in 2017. It said criminal networks, particularly the Italian Mafia, had managed to exploit legal loopholes to launder money through properties in Germany.

Money laundering in focus

Metals, auction houses and transparency registers

The new rules will also require precious metal dealers to report suspicious activity of more than €2,000, down from €10,000 previously. Regulations for art dealers will also be extended down the chain of control to warehouses, intermediaries and auction houses.

A transparency register will also make it more difficult for straw men to disguise the real ownership of companies.

In addition, the Financial Intelligence Unit will gain more power to identify and prevent money laundering. The aim is to prevent illegal money from entering the legal economic sector to finance terrorist networks and criminal networks. 

Berlin seizes crime clan assets

US embassy, Apple intervene

During the closing debate, several lawmakers complained that the US embassy and tech giant Apple had sought to intervene with the Chancellery to prevent a section of the law from passing. 

The attempt was related to a regulation which obliges digital platforms to open their interfaces for payment services and apps, such as the payment platform Apple Pay. Banks' payment apps cannot yet access the Near Field Communication chip in the iPhone or Apple Watch, but have to resort to cumbersome data transfer methods such as QR codes.  

cw/rt (dpa, Reuters)

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