The UAE Central Bank has issued new guidance on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) for licensed financial institutions (LFIs) with a focus on the risks of dealing with virtual assets.

It applies to LFIs such as banks, finance companies, exchange houses, payment service providers, registered hawala providers and insurance companies as well as agents and brokers.

The new guidance will assist LFIs’ understanding of risks and effective implementation of their statutory AML/CFT obligations and takes Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards into account, the Central Bank said in a statement on Wednesday.

It discusses the risks arising from dealing with virtual assets (VA) and virtual asset service providers (VASP) and sets out clear descriptions of VAs, VASPs and associated business models, the regulator said.

It also describes various channels and mechanisms of interaction between LFIs and VASPs.

The new guidance “outlines the customer due diligence and enhanced due diligence for LFIs towards potential VASP customers and counterparties, with the aim of de-risking, supporting them with training programmes, a governance system and record-keeping mechanisms”, the Central Bank said.

It will come into effect within one month.

“The new guidance related to the virtual assets sector contributes to strengthening the supervisory and regulatory frameworks of the Central Bank to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism,” said Khaled Balama, Governor of the UAE Central Bank.

“We are constantly working to enhance efforts and strengthen the awareness of licensed financial institutions to prevent all kinds of financial crime activities, and reduce potential risks to protect the financial and monetary system and maintain its soundness and stability, in line with the Financial Action Task Force standards.”

The UAE has passed strict laws to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism, and has issued a number of regulations over the years to clamp down on financial crime.

The country issued fines of more than Dh115 million ($31.3 million) in the first quarter of the year to combat money laundering, state news agency Wam reported in April.

This was a sharp increase from the Dh76 million of last year.

The 161 fines were handed out to 76 entities in the first three months of 2023. Confiscations have also increased, with frozen assets surpassing a value of Dh925 million seized from November 2022 to February 2023.

Hamid Al Zaabi, director general of the Executive Office for AML/CFT, told Wam his organisation was working closely with the FATF. He said the UAE was an important trade and investment hub and the federal government was working closely with authorities across the country and the private sector to ensure that all entities were implementing effective AML/CFT measures.

In January, the Central Bank issued fresh guidelines for LFIs to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. They focus on the use of digital identification systems by LFIs to address customer due-diligence obligations.

In December, the regulator also issued guidelines for LFIs operating in the insurance sector to help them enforce their statutory AML/CFT obligations.

The Central Bank is also penalising banks and exchange houses for failing to comply with its regulations.

In February, it imposed a fine of Dh1.8 million and stricter compliance requirements on a finance company for breaching the country’s AML/CFT laws and the organisation of financial institutions and activities.

Last year, the banking regulator also imposed a fine of Dh5.2 million on an exchange house in accordance with the law to combat money laundering, the financing of terrorism and illegal organisations.

Source: UAE Central Bank issues new guidance on anti-money laundering related to virtual assets (