Proposed money laundering rules could affect professional privilege

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by Michael Mata

The Australian government has announced it is reviving long-stalled plans to extend its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws (known as the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006) to capture lawyers, accountants, jewelers, and real estate agents involved in illicit activities, said Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

The law reforms have been repeatedly shelved since mid-2007 due to opposition from some of the affected sectors, including the legal profession. The first tranche of the AML/CTF Act were put in place in 2006 to compel banks, fund managers, and casinos to report the source of their money flows. However, the anticipated second tranche of reforms, which would cover designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs), did not materialise.  

According to Keenan, the government is preparing to release the proposals to the public for consultation. "The first step in this process will be the release of industry consultation papers by the Attorney General's Department, which is expected to happen before the end of the year," he said.

The professions captured by the extended laws will be required to conduct risk assessments on their businesses, develop compliance programs, train their staff, as well as report suspicious transactions and any cash payments exceeding $10,000.

Lawyers have long opposed the extension of the AML/CTF Act as they fear it would clash with their obligation to respect legal professional privilege.

New Zealand is also expediting the second phase of its anti-money laundering regime in response to the Panama Papers leak.

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