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EU fights money laundering – and targets football

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EU fights money laundering – and targets football

As of: April 24, 2024 6:14 p.m

The EU Parliament has passed a regulation to combat money laundering – it specifically focuses on football clubs.

The French MEP Damien Carême chose a remarkable list in his speech in the EU Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday (April 24, 2024). “Criminals, terrorists, financial fraudsters, oligarchs, arms dealers, football clubs – the list of those who launder money is long,” said the Green politician, who is a member of the Economic Affairs Committee. “They do this because they know exactly what loopholes there are in European legislation.”

Parliament approved the new regulations to combat money laundering in the European Union with a clear majority. In addition to the harmonization of national laws, European framework conditions should apply. In addition, an authority to combat money laundering called AMLA is to be set up in Frankfurt am Main. In the debate in Parliament there was a lot of agreement about the regulation, but there was little criticism. But: football clubs in a row with terrorists and arms dealers?

“The football industry poses a high risk of money laundering”

In February, the Council and Parliament provisionally agreed on several measures to combat money laundering. It recognized “that the football industry poses a high risk,” it said in a statement at the time. Therefore, football clubs and player agents have been included in the group of obligated parties to whom the new regulations will apply. Clubs and players’ agents must then report suspicious transactions to the relevant authorities.

The danger to football lies in its worldwide popularity, the EU said. This involves considerable sums, financial flows, large financial interests, cross-border transactions and sometimes opaque ownership relationships. All of this makes football vulnerable. Between 2017 and 2019, “Operation Zero” took place in Belgium, a corruption and money laundering scandal involving numerous officials from Belgian first and second division clubs as well as several player agents.

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Money laundering

According to the Federal Criminal Police Office, the aim of money laundering is to “remove illegally obtained assets from the access of law enforcement authorities”. After money laundering, the previously illegally obtained money should appear to have been obtained in an explainable and legal manner. It is then no longer possible to draw conclusions about crimes. The money is often used to finance other crimes.

“Can fans really enjoy the game knowing that the money they are using to buy their favorite player comes from the proceeds of organized criminal groups or from a Russian oligarch who supports the war of aggression against Ukraine?” Carême asked ahead of the game Vote in the British “Guardian”. “I personally can’t do that.”

French MEP Damien Carême

Risks with sponsors, investors and player transfers

According to the EU, the biggest risks in football lie in transactions with sponsors and investors, but also in player transfers. Clubs and players’ agents would therefore have to take special measures, including carrying out careful checks on who they enter into which deals with.

The sports betting market is also in focus. The football magazine “11Freunde” and the Norwegian sports portal “Josimar” reported on the cooperation of Bundesliga clubs with dubious betting providers from the Far East.

Thomas Spickhofen, ARD Brussels, tagesschau, January 18, 2024 5:43 p.m

Exceptions for clubs that can demonstrate a “low risk”.

The club association ECA responded to a request from Sportschau that, together with UEFA, it shared the goal of combating financial crime. But: “In the coming years, appropriate cooperation with stakeholders at European and national level is required to ensure optimal national implementation of the EU rules.” The Guardian reported that the ECA felt left out during negotiations on the text of the regulation.

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The regulation only provides for a few exceptions. These apply to football clubs that can demonstrate a “low risk of money laundering” to the new authority in Frankfurt. The EU member states can also exempt clubs from their obligations in whole or in part. This is possible if the club, as a first division team, “achieved a total annual turnover of less than 5 million euros in each of the previous two calendar years”. Lower playing clubs can also be fully or partially exempt from the requirements depending on the size of their business area.

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