The Beginning of an End?

The fundamental concept of “foreign fighters” is not a modern-day innovation; historically, fighters from abroad have participated in several civil wars. A classic example is the International Brigades, a militant group constituted of foreign fighter volunteers from 50 different countries participating in Spanish Civil War. In the present time, however, the definition of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) has gained in importance after its adoption in the Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014) following the Iraq crisis, which has been reaffirmed in the UNSC Res. 2396 (2017). A recently published joint report by Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) and Global Center on Cooperative Security attempted to explore the nuances of behavioural and financial profiles of FTFs in Southeast Asia by gathering and utilising financial intelligence by the Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) across this region to analyse and combat the catalytic effect of FTFs on terrorist activities.

The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS in 2019, led to the immediate appointment of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the following leader of the Islamic State.[1] He was an ex-Iraqi army official, who had served Saddam Hussein, as well as a policymaker and was killed in a US raid in northern Syria earlier this year.[2] Also, he was placed on OFAC’s Specially Designated Global Terrorist list raising the question: Is this really the beginning of the end of violent terrorism perpetrated by one of the most powerful extremist organisations in modern history? Maybe not. Given the diminishing importance and influence of IS in recent years, several pro-ISIS offshoots are beginning to regroup with the hope to revive IS with any means available, including the recruitment of FTFs and the reception and utilisation of their returnees in their respective home countries. These offshoot organisations include multiple militant groups in Southeast Asia, such as Tawhid-wal Jihad, Katibah Nusantara (a group responsible for 2016 Jakarta Terrorist attacks), the Maute Group, FAKSI (a group from Java, Indonesisa pledging allegiance to ISIS) and many more. There already is a growing concern of FTFs being recruited via social media by several ISIS affiliates, sympathisers, and returnees from the Asian Pacific area.[3]

This article evaluates the threats posed by FTFs and the systems currently deployed to identify and assess the tactical and evasive methods used by foreign fighters.[4] Moreover, this article attempts to understand the movement, financial profile and transaction patterns and the potential red flags leading to the detection and prosecution. Finally, the article aims to serve as an additional source of knowledge on FTF profiling for compliance officers, anti-money laundering practitioners, and financial analysts in the counterterrorism landscape.

Who are the Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs)?

In order to respond effectively and efficiently to imminent re-emerging terrorist threats, it is imperative not only to identify the mechanisms of FTF transactional and behavioural patterns, the geographical emanation, transit and destination hubs as well as FTF returnees, but also to comprehend the FTF definition as described in the UNSC resolutions 1373 (2001), 2462 (2019), and 2178 (2014).

According to the UNSC resolution 2178,

“foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) are those individuals who travel or attempt to travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality, and other individuals who travel or attempt to travel from their territories to a State other than their States of residence or nationality, for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of terrorist training , including in connection with armed conflict.”[5]

FTF planning, preparation and deployment require funds, so it is important to understand the geographical footprint and phases of FTF movements. This includes the point of origin, the transit routes and the various means of funding used to enable FTFs to carry out terrorist activities at the designated spots. Below snippet highlights commonly used methods for movement of funds involving FTFs.

FTF Funds

Surveys of APG members including law enforcement and intelligence agencies have revealed that typically licensed and unlicensed remittance companies, wire transfers and cash withdrawals at home and abroad have been extensively utilised by the foreign fighters and their recruiting agents.

Re-Emergence & Drivers of FTF Activities

Part of the reason why ISIL offshoots are targeting Southeast Asia for recruitment is the influence of ISIS extremists on new militants, who view the group as the true bearer of the jihadi principles they have long upheld. Another factor for FTF re-emergence in the Southeast out of Daesh/ISIS is the affirmative influence of former members’ biased accounts on new militants, whose motivations are a complex mix of social, economic, cultural, ideological, and personal reasons. However, the following inexhaustive list sums up the main motivational factors for FTFs.[6]

  • Religious narratives within the eschatologically oriented and misguided people willing to live under the rule of the so-called caliphate
  • Ideological conviction
  • Desire to improve the poor political and humanitarian conditions attributed to the atrocities of Syrian Civil War and oppressive dictatorship in Syria (typically a conflict-ridden zone in a broader sense)
  • Sense of belonging, adventure, respect, opportunities for economic advancement, employment, marriage, and other material benefits

Following the territorial collapse of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in particular, FTF recruitment focuses its attention on individuals and their families that are detained in camps, returning to their countries of origin, or travelling to a third country as well as on children of foreign fighters. However, several states have revoked FTFs’ citizenships to prevent their return, rendering them stateless.

Usage of Financial Intelligence against FTFs

In addition to a more generalised approach for the identification of red flag indicators aimed towards terrorist activities, more detailed information could benefit private sector actors in detecting and disrupting suspicious transactions related to FTFs or terrorist financing activities.

Example: Information about a very specific geographical area that is alleged to be a terrorist hotspot will enable reporting entities in the future to both better manage their risk of exposure to terrorist financing as well as to report more actionable and useful financial intelligence.

Below illustration shows a typical pattern of movement of foreign fighters which is subdivided into four to five stages.

FTF Movement Patterns

Prior to Departure

  • Pre-planned cessation of account activity by FTF
  • Account statements indicating sale of personal possessions prior to date of travel
  • Airline ticket purchases in proximity to conflict zones
  • Account activity indicating funds received from social assistance, student loans, or other credit products
  • Donations to NPOs linked to terrorist financing activities
  • Use of funds for other travel-related items

En Route

  • Irrational circuit of travel routes to the conflict zone with multiple means of travel
  • Notice about a travel to a third country via a conflict zone but financial activities indicating an incomplete journey
  • Financial activity alongside corridor to a conflict zone
  • Receipt of wires inside or along the border of a conflict zone

In Theatre

  • Inward money transfers from friends and relatives or terrorist accomplices
  • Account goes dormant
  • Media coverage on individual travellers to conflict zones


  • Dormant account suddenly becomes active
  • Receiving new sources of income
  • Atypical domestic or international fund transfers

Current Challenges

The categorisation as FTF depends on domestic legislation, which is guided by the international standard definition of whether the suspected individuals are “FTFs” or the groups they join are “designated terrorist groups”. This can cause inconsistencies in the application of FTF terminology, which is why it is imperative to adopt a globally accepted standard definition that makes a distinction between the terminologies of FTFs, general terrorists and the ones related to an armed conflict.

Additionally, the current red flag indicators for FTFs are rather broad and heavily biased toward the geographic location of the transactions associated with travel to a conflict zone or border region without the ability to determine whether they are legitimate or illegitimate. Lack of such information as well as the common profile of FTFs remain a practical challenge not only for the definition and identification of FTFs, but also for the analysis of their financial, behavioural, and geographic movement.

The usage of cash transactions between unknown, unrelated individuals and the transnational nature of FTF transactions constitute additional challenges. As customs and border officials are the first line of defence in the fight against FTFs, including them in the policy framework could be beneficial for an effective identification of FTFs and an appropriate reaction to FTF activities.

Another challenge is the lack of a robust feedback channel: Transactional relationships between law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and financial institutes (FIs) lack feedback on the quality and usefulness of information, which remains a bottleneck for investigating agencies in their collaborative efforts against foreign terrorists. Domestic communication from the financial and private sector and FIUs to law enforcement agencies is a one-way channel.[7] Feedback on a broad basis is important, not only in relation to specific cases. This is crucial to validate the correct flagging of information and how to improve reporting. This will help FIUs improve the refining of indicators, the quality and reliability of STRs as well as strategic and actionable intelligence.


While some APG members are continuously working on developing regulatory frameworks and strengthening their domestic AML CFT policies and procedures to prevent FTF activities and terrorism as a whole, other states have yet to establish (and, where already in place, reinforce) a well-defined AML framework to combat the financing of terrorism and intercept terrorist activities.

Governments also need to be mindful about the blurred lines of distinction between human rights violations, the categorisation of FTFs and armed conflicts versus a generalisation of terrorism. While several legal and compliance practitioners, FIUs and LEAs have investigated FTF related cases and developed a preliminary basis of red flags and indicators for the identification of FTFs, there still remain practical challenges to explicitly identify FTFs. At the moment, little data is available on incarcerated FTFs, as much of the information provided is unreliable and biased.

However, a combination of factors such as social and behavioural profiling of FTFs, geolocation and travel pattern analysis, understanding irrational account activity and a robust feedback communication between LEAs and FIUs will contribute to the preparedness against FTFs destabilising the region.


[1]Islamic State group names its new leader as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi - BBC News

[2]Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi killed in Syria, US says - BBC News

[3]Southeast Asian Analysts: IS Steps Up Recruitment in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines

[4]Publication of Financing and Facilitation of FTFs and Returnees in Southeast Asia Report

[5]Investigation, Prosecution and Adjudication of Foreign Terrorist Fighter Cases for South and South-East Asia (unodc.org)

[6]Foreign Terrorist Fighters - Manual for Judicial Training Institutes South-Eastern Europe

[7]Publication of Financing and Facilitation of FTFs and Returnees in Southeast Asia Report





Over the past years and decades, the majority of the financial world has invested large amounts to do full justice to the regulatory requirements in the area of compliance. This starts with the recruitment and training of qualified staff and ends with the implementation of regulatory requirements that are subject to constant change due to new services, products and processes. Screening and monitoring software systems have been implemented with great effort to check transactions for indications of money laundering and terrorism financing.

However, what was often not in the focus was the necessary analysis of the quality of the data to be processed. This forms the basis to be able to operate systems adequately. Dealing with missing or incorrect data has an enormous impact on the effectiveness of compliance and represents a high risk of not complying with the regulatory requirements in the course of internal or external audits.

Missing or incorrect data means that the parameters stored in the systems cannot take effect as would be necessary from a compliance and regulatory perspective. On the one hand, this can lead to a large number of incorrect hits in systems, which then need to be closed automated or manually − taking into account the necessary requirements for the quality of the documentation. On the other hand, transactions cannot become suspicious or the required customer risk classification cannot be done as necessary and required by law. 

To outline the effects of collecting incorrect data, let us consider the following situation as an example:

  • A business relationship is established with an MBS (Money Service Business).
  • Based on recommendation 14 of the FATC, it should be checked whether the MBS is a licensed provider.
  • This applies to natural and legal persons without any restrictions.
  • If the "Sector of Activity" is not correctly recorded as part of the customer acceptance process, all further defined measures cannot take effect, such as
    • Approval during the customer acceptance
    • Adequate customer risk classification
    • Assignment to the correct risk class
    • Period of the data update
    • Transfer to the monitoring system
    • Appropriate monitoring in the payment systems
    • Possibly, incorrect / incomplete reporting

Besides the collection of such data, the maintenance of customer-related master data is an elementary basis for proper compliance. Only with complete, up-to-date and correct data is an analysis of a customer's activities possible in the first place. If, in the scope of the research, the compliance department decides to make a report to the FIU, the authority will only be able to analyze cases and to take the necessary action if complete and correct data has been transmitted.

Only complete and correct data permit the obligated party to comply with the recommendation 16 of FATF in the case of foreign bank transfers. Furthermore, only with complete and correct data are the continuous checks of the customer portfolio against the sanctions or PEP lists possible.

This year and in the coming years, many Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) will start using the goAML software by UNODC for more effective tracking of reports across borders. However, these effort can only be successful if the data transmitted electronically to the FIU is correct and complete.

As a first step, therefore, the financial institutes must identify whether the customer master data records are stored multiple times in the core bank systems. If this is the case, it is strongly recommended to merge similar customer data records to be able to get a consistent picture of the total exposure.

Further steps include the verification of individual pieces of information such as

  • Last name
  • First name
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Address
  • Passport data

with regard to completeness and correctness.

The completeness of the data is not only restricted to the customer's master data. It is also important to regularly check whether the data, which is transferred to the research systems, is completely and correctly transmitted and processed. For instance, a missing country code for a foreign transaction can lead to important facts not being noticed in a monitoring system, even though this data is available. Because without a corresponding country code, cross-border transactions cannot be processed in the SWIFT network.

In this respect, obligated parties face the constant challenge of not only dealing with regulatory requirements, but also ensuring that a closed system in its entirety ensures that all regulatory requirements can be met.



MX ISO 20022 implementation, cross-border transactions and the impact on regulatory compliance projects

The migration of transactions to the newer ISO 20022 format is keeping banks busy these days. What is the impact on compliance related sanctions screening of cross-border transactions? This article collects some experiences gathered during compliance projects.

Many projects related to the message format in cross-border transactions are currently active in banks. The main buzzword here is ISO 20022. This is an ISO standard specification for messages used in international banking. The importance of this format, particularly in Europe, comes from two running implementation changes:

  1. The European Target consolidation project Target 2/T2
  2. The SWIFT network changing according to CBPR+

Both these transaction messaging network related changes will modify the technical implementation of messages in the respective networks and will go live in November 2022. While the Target consolidation will go live with a big bang on this date, the CBPR+ implementation will start with a transition phase ending in 2025. Participants will need to adapt and migrate their processes and technical systems.

ISO20022 Compliance and Clearing Systems

In general, this XML-based message format standard and its different message types become more and more widespread around the world. Harmonisation of the message format is a big advantage, which always constitutes one of the main reasons stated for the change.

However, changing the technical format within a bank is a massive task. Parts of the technical infrastructure may have to be changed. Multiple applications involved in the message processing need to be evaluated, upgraded or replaced − from the payment system to compliance-relevant components such as transaction screening applications. The format of the bank’s data mapping must be defined, implemented and checked. Involving and aligning departments across the bank is key to a successful implementation of these changes. Often, external support is required to cover the workload.

Compliance applications, such as real-time sanctions screenings, are a piece of the puzzle involved in this change, but they sometimes come into play very late. It is crucial for a bank’s compliance that these components are working properly.

Technically, the XML-based format is already used within the European Target network for SEPA transactions alongside the MT FIN format. Looking at the details, SEPA uses a format based on the ISO 20022 standard. At first glance, it looks similar to the new format under the changes, but the small differences in implementation can cause a lot of effort to make the new type of messages work.

Another major change in this T2 network is that more functional options are available for banks, e.g., liquidity management and instant payment settlements. The overall process of clearing changes and the functionality for instant payments require very short processing-times for messages. These features utilise additional technical message types that make technical changes necessary regarding formats as well as expectations in processing time.

Worldwide, the message text format (MT) is currently used in the SWIFT network alongside the MX format. As the MT format is outdated and has too many disadvantages, it needs to be replaced. A transition of message types over time is already foreseen.

Besides harmonisation, a major advantage of MX over MT messages is the better structured data. One example is the differentiation between name and address information:

ISO20022 Unstructured vs Structured Data

Is there an impact on compliance systems screening cross-border transactions against sanctions lists?
The general answer is yes, as it is part of the process chain of the bespoken messages. When planning these changes, it is important to include the compliance department with its business needs and technical implementation in the discussion as early as possible. The size and scope of necessary change depends on several aspects. Two major aspects faced in projects are:

  1. Banks utilising different message formats for different business processes in different networks: It may be the case that only MT transactions are currently used in the bank, with only a few message types, or that the bank has a lot of offerings making all types of messages necessary.
  2. In some banks, the ISO standard is already known and used. Therefore, only small network-specific adaptations may be needed. But for customers currently using MT messages only, this is a major change.

What is the impact from a regulatory compliance point of view?
First big question: Are XML-based messages already used? In case they are not used yet, the effort for the implementation of data delivery including data mapping, configuring the system and testing the implementation of T2/CBPR+ changes can be significant. This effort is reduced to some degree when XML-based messages are already in use (for example for SEPA). The applications may already have a basic business configuration and the staff is experienced in handling XML messages. In any case, the setup should be tested against the business expectations to ensure the functionality of the application for the compliance department.

Technically, it is a format change that must be implemented across applications and payment streams. The integration point of the sanctions-screening solution is one factor: Does the sanctions-screening software read the plain messages as-is or is it called by another application and the interface uses proprietary data fields prepared by the calling application?

Depending on this factor, either the complete application must be prepared for the new messages and re-tested, or the implementation change must be performed on the calling application. However, the overall solution needs to be re-tested for proper sanctions screening of the message content. It is important that the necessary fields, e.g., the names of the acting parties, BIC codes and account numbers in a transaction, are correctly fetched from the message content and processed within the compliance solution.

End-users of the compliance department may have to be trained in handling the new message format. The general appearance of the message and content of the fields can look different. Therefore, also the investigators may need training for effective handling of alerts of these new message formats.

Something to be considered as well are changes in volumes respective to the different transaction formats. This may be relevant for infrastructural topics such as the technical sizing of the applications involved in the different payment streams. Also, it is expected that processing times are getting shorter. In many cases, the architectures of the systems are changed so that they can process data 24/7 and with high availability if this has not already been done.

In the coming months, the implementation and support efforts in the projects will focus more and more on proper testing of technical and business configuration to ensure a successful go-live in November 2022. And of course, my colleagues at msg Rethink Compliance and I look forward to working with our customers to achieve the goal of a technically stable and operationally compliant screening of their cross-border transactions in the future.



Turkey in the contradiction between money laundering prevention and asset peace. But Turkey is not alone. Russia, too, is no stranger to this.

Turkey: a country between Orient and Occident, a country full of contrasts. Not only is it geographically partly in Europe, but also the motto of the founding father of this republic was:  Always look to the West and not to the East. For decades, Turkey was considered pioneering and progressive for Muslim countries. Its longstanding aspiration to belong to the European Community has been reflected in its laws according to European standards.  It has become a respected member of the international community, is a member of NATO as well as the OECD, and there has been a customs agreement between it and the European Union since 1995.

As a country between tradition and modernity, Turkey has been exposed to a wide variety of political currents. However, various developments over the last few years have led to a massive economic crisis and a decline in the rule of law. Turkey is now ranked 117th out of 139 countries worldwide in terms of the rule of law in the current list of the World Justice Project[1] (WJP).  In the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it has even fallen to last place.

Turkey WJP 685x385

This divergence between European standards in existing legislation and conditions that lack the rule of law is also reflected in Turkey's anti-money laundering provisions. As a long-standing member of the FATF, Turkey has signed all major international agreements in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.

Turkey Agreements 685x385

The signed conventions have been incorporated into Turkey's national legislation. In 1996, a money laundering law was introduced in Turkey.  In 2006, it was reformed to meet the international standards of the FATF.

An overview of the Turkish Money Laundering Act (MLA) shows the similarities with the German money laundering regulation in its structure.

Turkey AMLA 685x385

If we look at the obligated parties under the MLA, it is also apparent here that they are essentially no different from the group of obligated parties under the German MLA.

Obligated parties under the Turkish Money Laundering Law (Kanun 5549):

  • Banks
  • Insurance companies
  • Private pensions providers
  • Capital markets, credit and other financial services
  • Post and transport
  • Gambling and betting activities
  • Foreign exchange, real estate, precious stones and metals, jewelry, transport vehicles, construction machinery
  • Those engaged in the trade of historical artifacts, works of art and antiques or brokering these activities
  • Notaries, lawyers
  • Sports clubs and other areas designated by the Council of Ministers

Despite the existing laws, their application in practice gives rise to criticism. 

The main criticism was that the country's supervision did not take sufficient action against high-risk sectors such as banks, gold and gemstone dealers and real estate agents. It is feared that terrorist groups, among others, are feeding their illegally acquired funds into the Turkish real estate market and integrate them from there into other sectors.  Due to the geographical proximity to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and the relatively permeable borders to Turkey, there is also the concern that terrorist financing does not stop at the gates of Europe.[2]

Furthermore, in October 2021, the FATF reacted to the continuing crackdown on the civilian population with the grey listing. The specific criticism was directed against Turkey's "Anti-Terror Law" to "prevent the proliferation of the financing of weapons of mass destruction". Contrary to its title, this law does not contain any punitive measures or control mechanisms against money laundering or the financing of weapons of mass destruction for terrorist purposes.  Instead, it authorizes the president to freeze the funds and assets of terror suspects.[3]

Ultimately, Turkey's treatment of non-profit organizations was also the focus of the FATF's criticism.  The mere existence of criminal investigations on terrorism charges against a board member of initiatives, associations and foundations entitles the Ministry of the Interior and the government-appointed governors to suspend the persons concerned, paralyze the activity of the respective association and appoint a receiver in its place.[4]

This led to Turkey being placed on the grey list by the FATF in 2021. For example, it was found to have deficiencies in the implementation and enforcement of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing laws.[5]

Already in 2019, the FATF's Mutual Evaluation Report analyzed Turkey's anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing measures and identified a number of shortcomings. As a result, seven priority measures were called for. These include, for example, developing strategies for the confiscation of proceeds and instrumentalities and filling gaps in the legal framework in order to fully comply with obligations regarding targeted financial sanctions related to terrorism. There was also a call for the development of a Turkish national strategy for the investigation and prosecution of various types of crimes related to money laundering.[6]

The FATF addressed the supposed improvements in its follow-up process. In this process, the implementation of the FATF recommendations that had been criticized was addressed and a classification was made as to whether the criticized points had been remedied or at least partially remedied in the meantime.[7]

„Asset Peace“

One aspect that was not mentioned in any of the justifications submitted by the FATF is the so-called "asset peace".  This Turkish law "Varlık Barışı", which translates as Asset Peace Law, has existed since 2008. This law was initiated to declare money, gold, foreign currencies and other capital market instruments from abroad and bring them into Turkey.

The content of this law aims to bring unregistered assets from abroad into Turkey without asking about the origin of the money brought into the country and without having a tax audit carried out in order to maintain the "asset peace".  Assets brought into Turkey under the asset peace are not taxed. This law has been in place for 14 years now, and is renewed every six months. The last time it was extended for another six months was on New Year's Eve on December 31, 2021.

Residents also benefit from this scheme.  Taxpayers who own money, gold, foreign currencies, securities and other capital market instruments as well as real estate that are located in the country but not included in the statutory general ledger records can declare them to the tax authorities and legalize them through the asset peace.  Eligible persons are individuals and legal entities.  The only condition is that the declared assets are brought into Turkey or transferred to an account to be opened with banks or brokers in Turkey within three months of the date of notification. Turkish citizenship is not required to benefit from the asset peace. The cash brought into the country is sufficient for a customs document.

The official rationale is that those with unregistered savings at home and abroad can now make their money official without fear of prosecution by the tax authorities. Retired auditor general and author Kadir Sev pointed out that implementing "asset peace" is one of the easiest ways to launder assets.[8]

The law is an amnesty scheme according to which it is irrelevant from which sources the assets originate.  But it is precisely the examination of the origin of funds that is the basis of the fight against money laundering.  It is a contradictory approach to combating money laundering if, on the one hand, asset peace means that there are no checks on where the money or assets actually originate.  On the other hand, there are regulations in the Money Laundering Act that correspond to the international standards of the FATF. 

The money enters the country via banks, brokers and intermediaries.  This begs the question how such an arrangement can be reconciled with a bank's AML provisions.  Is it black money, bribe money or are these funds used to finance terrorism? These aspects are not taken into account, so that, by law, banks are not supposed to analyze these aspects at all and reporting to the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) is not required.  This counteracts MASAK's very own task of combating money laundering.


Assets that - for whatever reason - were previously exempted from state control can become legal and registered assets through the asset peace incentive, without the source of these assets being questioned and those affected being subjected to a tax audit. 

How can money laundering and terrorist financing be combated if the origin of the money is not questioned? Against the background of the country's geographical location, these circumstances hold enormous potential for laundering drug money and money from human trafficking in Turkey.  Tax evasion is also legalized by this scheme.  The tax amnesty removes the deterrent function and decreases the willingness to pay taxes voluntarily. The decline of the Turkish lira is driving more and more people into poverty. The impact of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption, according to a report by the UN body for transparency and accountability, is that resources needed to fight poverty caused by tax evasion, corruption and financial crime are exhausted.[9]

Against the background of such a law, it seems more than questionable that asset peace is not mentioned in the deficiencies in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing criticized by the FATF. Even if the criticized circumstances that led to Turkey being placed on the grey list were all remedied, the question arises as to how a scheme such as asset peace can be brought into line with a FATF membership that is committed to combating money laundering and terrorist financing. 

At the same time, asset peace represents a major risk factor with regard to money laundering. This raises the question of whether the FATF actually did not notice this scheme or whether it was deliberately left out.

While granting some legitimacy to tax amnesties by invoking supposed benefits in terms of addressing economic challenges, it must not be the case that illicit assets are legitimized under the guise of asset peace.

Ultimately, Turkey will have to decide sooner or later whether it wants to continue on this path or credibly be a fellow combatant of the international community in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.

Capital amnesty also in Russia

Russia is currently under economic pressure due to the sanctions imposed as a result of the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian rouble, like the Turkish lira, is plummeting. For these reasons, a so-called "capital amnesty" was enacted in Russia. This means that money taken abroad beyond the reach of the tax authorities can return to Russia without the threat of penalties or taxes.[10] However, this is nothing new in Russia. The Russian government has already passed amnesty laws in the past. As with asset peace, the purpose was to repatriate financial resources located abroad. This offer was intended to provide the Russian economy with urgently needed liquid funds. In return, this was made possible without subsequent payment of taxes.[11]

Even more intensively than in the first amnesty attempt in 2015, Russians are being offered to close the companies they control abroad and bringing back the money without having to pay tax on it afterwards.[12] 

History of capital amnesty in Russia

Russia had introduced an amnesty for past tax and foreign exchange offences in 2014, when the country was struggling with massive capital outflows, low oil prices and sanctions from the West over the Ukraine dispute.[13] This first amnesty scheme was in place from 2015 to 2016, providing exemption from liability for tax and criminal offences, as well as regulatory offences related to declared assets. The amnesty had rarely been used and expired in mid-2016.

The second stage of the amnesty scheme was implemented from March 1, 2018 to February 28, 2019 and covered activities carried out before January 1, 2018. Due to the low take-up of the first amnesty scheme, new laws on the second stage of the amnesty were passed before the new presidential term:

  • Federal Law No. 33-FZ “On Amendments to the Federal Law "On Voluntary Declaration of Assets and Accounts in Banks by Individuals” and “On Amendments to Individual Legal Acts of the Russian Federation" of 19.02.2018
  • Federal Law No. 34-FZ “On Amendments to the First and Second Parts of the RF Social Code...” of 19.02.2018
  • Federal Law No. 35-FZ “On Amendments to Article 76-1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation”[14]

For example, changes were made such as the abolition of the 13 per cent tax on retrieved funds. The tax exemption extended to funds in accounts at foreign banks and to foreign accounts that were closed before January 1, 2018.[15] However, the essence of the amnesty scheme remained untouched.  Those claiming the amnesty were required to submit a special declaration to the Russian tax authorities, thus disclosing information about their assets and bank accounts abroad, as well as their shareholdings in foreign companies (including controlled companies). The amnesty covered violations of both foreign exchange and tax laws contained in the Criminal Code (Art. 193, 194, 198, 199, 199.1, 199.2), Administrative Offences Code (Art. 15.1-15.6, 15.8, 15.11, 15.25) and Tax Code of the Russian Federation.[16]

The third stage of the amnesty scheme was to last until March 1, 2020. The targets of the amnesty were now investors and businessmen who are willing to transfer their funds to Russian accounts and move their foreign assets to the special administrative areas in the Kaliningrad and Primorye regions.[17] Individuals can benefit from this, provided they move their funds from foreign to Russian accounts as well as re-register their foreign assets in the Russian offshore zones.

Commonalities and legitimacy

As with asset peace in Turkey, the Russian "capital amnesty" does not require disclosure of the source or origin of the money. In both countries, it is not only their own nationals who can take advantage of these schemes. The measures apply to Russian nationals and foreigners with a settlement permit. Like Turkey, Russia is a member of the FATF. In June 2013, Russia joined the FATF, committing to adhere to the FATF guidelines and benchmarks in its legislation. Here, too, the amnesty schemes cannot be reconciled with the essence of the FATF, the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. 

The capital amnesty laws in both Russia and Turkey aim to generate capital flows into the country in order to be liquid again. The examples of Russia and Turkey demonstrate that autocrats introduce measures to cushion themselves in the face of economic difficulties - even if this opens the door to money laundering and violates their obligations under their FATF membership.



[1] The World Justice Project (WJP) is an independent, multidisciplinary organization whose aim is to document the development of the rule of law around the world, to outline developments and to promote the rule of law worldwide.

[2] See blog post: What are the consequences of Turkey's inclusion on the FATF grey list?

[3] See blog post: What are the consequences of Turkey's inclusion on the FATF grey list?

[4] See blog post: What are the consequences of Turkey's inclusion on the FATF grey list? 

[5] See blog post: What are the consequences of Turkey's inclusion on the FATF grey list? 

[6] FAFT, Anti-money laundering und counter-terrorist financing measures - Mutual Evaluation Report 2019, Page 10 Priority Actions

[7] FAFT, Anti-money laundering und counter-terrorist financing measures – 1st Enhances Follow-up Report & Technical Compliance Re-Rating

[8] www.haber.sol.org.tr/haber/kara-para-aklamanin-en-kolay-yolu-erdoganin-varlik-barisi-aski-308261

[9] www.giz.de/en/downloads/170330_factsheet_BMZ_Steuer.pdf

[10] www.puls24.at/news/politik/russland-droht-westen-mit-harten-strafmassnahmen/258923

[11] www. ostexperte.de/oligarchen-ziehen-geld-aus-europa-ab/

[12] www.diepresse.com/5374305/wie-die-russischen-oligarchen-geld-aus-europa-abziehen

[13] www.handelsblatt.com/politik/international/russland-putin-will-devisen-zurueckholen/20790790.html

[14] www.roedl.net/fileadmin/user_upload/Roedl_Russia/Newsletter/deutsch/Newsletter-Mai-Juni-2018.pdf

[15] www.handelsblatt.com/politik/international/russland-putin-will-devisen-zurueckholen/20790790.html

[16] www.lex-temperi.de/aktuelles/news-anleger-und-geschäftsleute-profitieren-von-der-russischen-kapitalamnestie

[17] www.lex-temperi.de/aktuelles/news-anleger-und-geschäftsleute-profitieren-von-der-russischen-kapitalamnestie



What is not green is made green

The advancing social and political paradigm shift is reflected in the growing interest of investors and consumers in sustainability, environmental protection aspects and social responsibility. ESG (Environmental Social Governance) is on everyone's lips and refers to corporate orientation towards criteria of environmental protection and social responsibility as well as honest corporate governance beyond the legal minimum. The individual aspects of ESG are briefly explained below:

Environmental (E)[i] climate and environment friendly: Green assets are booming, sustainable funds have more than doubled their inflows globally since 2019, from USD 285 billion in 2019 to USD 649 billion in 2021[i]. ESG funds currently account for around 10 per cent of the total market. According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA)[ii] report, USD 35.5 trillion was in sustainable investments, according to Bloomberg Intelligence even USD 35.9 trillion – with a strong tendency to rise to an estimated USD 53 trillion[iii] by 2025. Society, the market, and regulators are key drivers of far-reaching ESG campaigns worldwide.

It’s so green“ – also in reality?

Shares of the world's largest oil and gas giants such as Saudi Aramco, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron, Gazprom or OMV are all represented in so-called “sustainable funds”, along with coal giants and mining operators such as Rio Tinto, Vale or BHP – despite their alleged responsibility for numerous environmental disasters and no less criticism from human rights organisations. No company or industry is excluded per se from the “sustainable circle” here, but often tolerated according to the best-in-class principle. For example, the top “green” quartile of companies in the underlying index is inevitably reflected as “green” in the ESG-listed funds. For this, it is sufficient if a company produces few CO2 emissions in comparison to others. It remains questionable to what extent sustainability and resource conservation are taken into account in the business model in absolute terms. The evaluation in relation to other index companies and a high tolerance threshold for undesirable sectors (up to 35%) are striking weaknesses for a comprehensive realistic sustainability rating. IT and digital service providers also not infrequently boast of being particularly energy-efficient and thus environmentally friendly by advertising increased computing capacity per second (FLOPS[iv] rate), but ultimately causing more overall consumption. This rebound effect is detrimental to nature, as only the absolute consumption figure would be crucial for it. In addition to the electricity consumption, the enormous water consumption for the cooling of server centres does not contribute to the sustainability of the IT multis either. Microsoft, for instance, shines with an AAA rating (source MSCI) with reference to its low CO2 emissions and its positive contribution to the maximum 2-degree Celsius climate warming target.

The EU and EBA[v] also initially focus more on risks from environmental factors as part of their broad ESG campaigns, especially from climate change. “Social” factors are only to become a stronger focus of European regulators in subsequent years. The EU Green Deal[vi] states that companies making “green claims” should back them up with a standard methodology to assess their impact on the environment. The EU Circular Economy Action Plan 2020[vii] requires companies to substantiate their environmental claims using product and organisational procedures for their environmental footprint.

Information on the environmental performance of companies and products across the EU should therefore become reliable, comparable and verifiable. Reliable environmental information would enable market participants – consumers, businesses and investors – to make greener choices and avoid greenwashing. A new EU taxonomy[viii] now regulates for the first time, among other things, the difference between “light green” and “dark green” investments[ix]. However, there are no uniform designation standards or labels worldwide, so the EU's initiative is to be welcomed.

Social (S) socially and labour friendly: Apple Inc. shares are represented in numerous global sustainable tech funds, despite criticism around supplier countries with questionable human rights situations and low labour protection standards. How humane and fair are working conditions in mines, warehouses, manufacturing or subcontracting and along the entire supply chain? What proportion of suppliers can Apple trace on its own and what proportion of suppliers are from which companies in which jurisdictions/regions? Is Apple at all willing to monitor compliance with its own Code of Conduct and take appropriate action if there are anomalies or warnings from the supply chain? Rating providers such as Sustainalytics, Bloomberg ESG-Measure or MSCI largely exclude the supply chain/third-party supplier problem in their assessment and still focus on emissions and the direct corporate contribution to global warming. In our opinion, this is clearly not enough.

In its original version, the German Act on Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains (2021) was supposed to examine all supply chain members, but in its final version, it was limited only to direct suppliers. In the broader sense, this follows international standards such as the FCPA and UKBA. The idea behind it: Everyone is part of a supply chain and if everyone takes care of their immediate suppliers, the entire chain is covered. Thus, multiple sub-sourcing abroad is not directly in the scope of application – conflict materials as in the area of trade in goods are of course excluded and have to be considered accordingly. It remains to be seen whether the law will be reformed again with increasing EU regulation in line with the “social” factor.

Governance (G) Corporate governance: “Good governance”, i.e., good, honest corporate governance that goes beyond merely managing potential risks from violations, meeting the minimum regulatory requirements, and relying as conservatively as possible on tried and tested procedures. Instead, governance reflects the ethics of the individual company and should set the culture in practice for the future with “tone from the top”. Negative examples of “tone from the top” were provided by the VW exhaust gas (Dieselgate) or works council affair, as well as the Wirecard case including the subsequent audit mess - they too were considered “sustainable investments” and failed due to disastrous management, scandalously flanked by gross breach of duty in office and insider trading by public officials on the part of the national supervisory authority.

The tension field of corruption

If ESG ethics already raise questions among DAX companies and German regulators because it is too vague, and if greenwashing allegations affect DAX corporations, as in the cases of DWS and VW, one may ask how the issue fares internationally along global supply chains, especially in countries with higher corruption rankings according to Transparency International.

Corruption – in all its forms – is one of the biggest challenges of ESG compliance and a truly material problem for investors, especially in times of crisis. It comes in many forms: bribery of public officials, taking or granting benefits, embezzlement, nepotism and finally frivolously working officials and lax or absent control structures. The latter pave the way for unfair dealings and illegal private arrangements by deliberately undermining independent audits, verifiable documentation and government bodies, or by condoning violations and their consequences. At its most extreme, it is systematic government official corruption that brings entire jurisdictions into disrepute. Inadequate governmental institutional integrity not only results in a loss of business and public trust but also in drastic environmental destruction, illegal wildlife trafficking, money laundering, terrorist financing – even modern slavery, child labour and human trafficking.

Corruption is capable of undermining all pillars of ESG. Therefore, effective ESG implementation along the supply chain and especially in the area of supply chain compliance requires an effective anti-bribery and corruption strategy. This applies in principle and is intensified in the international environment, especially in countries with a high structural state and private sector corruption risk.

Corruption has many faces

Corruption is very diverse, and money is not always involved. It does not follow the same patterns, which makes it all the more difficult to detect. 

  • Cash is truth: Direct cash payments were and still are tried and tested and difficult to detect
  • Hospitality, travel and entertainment (e.g., pleasure trips by works councils)
  • Gifts and gratuities: often undetected or dismissed as trivial, including non-monetary ones
  • Favours for family or friends (e.g., the internship for the niece)
  • Assurance of privileges, contacts (special permission, establishment of business contacts)
  • “Media Bribe”: mutual favours between media/press representatives and politicians during election campaigns (e.g., positive media coverage in exchange for politically induced market power while distorting competition in the news or newspaper industry)
  • Hush money: for not reporting, advertising, publishing
  • Bribe, acceleration, or facilitation payments
  • (Hidden) bribery in the form of charitable donations, also for third parties (charity, NGOs)
  • (Hidden) bribery in the form of political donations, also for third parties
  • Bribery in the form of commission payments
  • Benefits and non-market conditions (loans, real estate, luxury goods, leisure activities, etc.)
  • Bribery of public officials (in connection with, among others, tender fraud, authorisation, access to benefits)
  • Misappropriation of state or company property
  • Failure to comply with auditing, record-keeping, reporting obligations
  • Procurement of fictitious services from shell companies (letterbox companies, also offshore)


The current scale is estimated at USD 1.75 trillionx] in annual corruption payments and the resulting damage at USD 2.6 trillion (5% of global GDP).

In the health sector, corruption kills 140,000 children annually.

Up to 25% of public funds are lost annually because of corruption.

Governments pay USD 7.5 trillion annually for global health care, but corruption causes USD 500 billion (7%) to be lost. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), USD 370 billion would be enough to ensure access to health care for everyone in the world.[xi]

The World Bank and the World Economic Forum estimate that corruption increases business costs by 10% worldwide. According to Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and Transparency International, corruption increases contract costs in developing countries by 25%.

The UN report on corruption and the Covid pandemic at the G20 Summit in Riyadh warned that corruption remains a major threat to containment efforts, stating: “It is generally accepted that corruption thrives in times of crisis due to the conducive environments that are fed by disorder and confusion. [...] International bodies and institutions, including, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Economic Forum (WEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the European Ombudsman, as well as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) called for countries to strive towards increased global vigilance and the integration of anti-corruption programming.”[xii]

A solution approach: business partner due diligence & anti-bribery & corruption (ABC)

  • “Good governance” is important for investment in all industries and markets. Demonstrated culture and robust clear, segregated roles and responsibilities, a control design with adequate IT tools, up-to-date policies & procedures[xiii], as well as training tailored to the business help increase sensitivity to suspicious behaviour in organisations.
  • The individual rating is important before aggregation to the overall rating in a fund/portfolio assessment. Each service provider contributes to the institution's overall ranking. The rating can include diverse data sources and risk assessments and aggregate these into a weighted score.
  • ESG factors and the adequate handling of resulting risks must be integrated into business strategy, governance and risk management. For this purpose, the EBA for the first time gives uniform general definitions of ESG risks (EU Taxonomy Regulation) and identifies assessment methods for effective risk management.[xiv]
  • Especially in countries and industries with known corruption problems, ABC prevention is an initial prerequisite for the effectiveness of ESG
  • Focus on the culture in practice and ethics of the company and on the individual risk exposure of all its bodies, employees and third parties rather than on minimum regulatory requirements to avoid fines and other sanctions: Holistic risk management instead of exclusively legal compliance risk management!
  • Implement whistleblowing systems that guarantee anonymity. The majority of tips come from internal and external whistleblowers.[xv]
  • The maxim is:

    Importance of ABC ESG Success 739x350

Warnings & red flags

In addition to whistleblowing systems, conspicuous behaviour by the counterparty itself or transactions associated with it can provide indications of corruption. Know-your-customer/counterparty (KYC/KYX) and transaction monitoring systems should therefore be regularly checked for indicators, so-called “red flags”, with regard to anti-bribery and corruption, and should be re-parameterised or readjusted as necessary. Relationships between companies and traders must also be scrutinised. 

  • Counterparty receives disproportionate commissions (“fees-on-the-side”)
  • Implausible payments for contingency fees (purpose, amount, place, principal, beneficiary, etc.)
  • Receipt of implausible discounts (deviating from market conditions)
  • Provision of alleged “consultancy services” to legitimise fictitious payments (vague description of the service provided or to be provided), business intransparency
  • Implausible industry connection between principal and beneficiary
  • Counterparty has business or close family ties to foreign officials or a Foreign Public Officer (FPO) or even a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) or their close associates, so-called “Relatives & Close Associates (RCAs)”
  • Property purchase with unusual or no financing
  • Overbilling (potentially with withholding of the difference)
  • Payments for fictitious services to shell companies
  • Request for transactions to offshore banks
  • and many other


There had been allegations of corruption and abuse of office against members of the German Bundestag several times last year. Some Union politicians are alleged to have been involved in brokering activities and to have collected high commissions in deals with medical protection masks. In addition, there is a complex affair involving alleged bribes from Azerbaijan. The recent 2.4 million euros bribery allegation at BMW (2.7 million euros damage) involving a former executive for embezzlement and commercial bribery by a consulting firm also testifies to the topicality, extent, and drastic nature of bribery in Germany - in both the public and private sectors of the economy. In this regard, the Council of Europe said that recommendations from its 2014 evaluation report on the prevention of bribery and conflicts of interest had largely not been implemented, according to interim reports in 2017 and 2019. Overall, efforts in Germany had been assessed as “not satisfactory”. It remains to be seen whether the planned lobby register of the Bundestag for the often-criticised non-transparent dealings of lobbyists with politicians will remedy conflicts of interest in this course.


[i] Source Reuters

[ii] GSIA | (gsi-alliance.org)

[iii] www.bloomberg.com/professional/blog/esg-assets-may-hit-53-trillion-by-2025-a-third-of-global-aum/

 [iv] Abbreviation for Floating Point Operations Per Second, the number of floating point operations that a computing unit (processor or entire computer system) can perform per second 

[v] See EBA Report on Management and Supervision of ESG Risks for Credit Institutions and Investment Firms (Jun 2021) and Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SDFR), incl. funds categorisation light green/dark green article 8 + 9 and Regulation (EU) 2020/852 Sustainable Finance Taxonomy

[vi] The European Green Deal

[vii] https://ec.europa.eu/environment/topics/circular-economy/first-circular-economy-action-plan_en

[viii]  EU Taxonomy according to Regulation (EU) 2020/852, anchored in the EU Sustainable Finance Action Plan, which aims to allocate more capital to environmentally sustainable activities

[ix] Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SDFR), incl. funds categorisation light green/dark green article 8 + 9 

[x] http://transparency.org.uk/corruption-statistics

[xi] http://transparency.org.uk/corruption-statistics#_edn1

[xii] https://www.unodc.org/documents/corruption/COVID-19/G20_Compendium_COVID-19.pdf

[xiii] „Policies & Procedures” Frameworks for ABC, Fraud, Code of Conduct, Business Ethics, Conflicts of Interest

[xiv] The EBA report on Management and Supervision of ESG Risks for Credit Institutions and Investment Firms provides comprehensive recommendations such as ESG factors and ESG risks, in particular in relation to counterparties, to be integrated into the regulatory and supervisory frameworks for institutions and investment firms. In doing so, the report emphasises the importance of a holistic, forward-looking perspective and proactive approach by banks and supervisors. Starting with impacts of ESG factors and their implications for financial risks, it explains assessment methodologies for robust business models, risk monitoring indicators and effective ESG risk management, and identifies remaining data gaps and methodological challenges.

[xv] See EU Whistleblower Policy