The head of the Combating Money Laundering Unit, widely known by its Greek acronym Mokas, said that until since the beginning of 2011 until the end of June 2016, it has secured 95 convictions in court.
The unit, a division of the attorney general’s office, which is tasked with coordinating Cyprus’ efforts to tackle money laundering with other supervisory authorities such as the Central Bank of Cyprus, the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission, the Cyprus Bar Association and the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Cyprus, currently has 20 staffers, which include five administrative workers and 15 other officers, Mokas head, attorney Eva Papakyriacou, said.
“We are assigned with a huge task both with respect to Cyprus and to cooperation with agencies of other countries,” she said, adding that Mokas is the only such unit with “such far-reaching responsibilities. As a result, the need for additional staff cannot be disputed”.
Cyprus came under increasing pressure from international creditors to do more to combat money laundering when it sought a bailout four years ago and a relevant clause was included in the memorandum of understanding it signed in March 2013. The county’s implementation of the anti-money laundering and terrorist financing legislation, in line with international treaties and the European Acquis, are evaluated by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval Commission.
The data on convictions reflects a significant increase. In 2013 to 2014 alone the number of convictions secured by Mokas reached 13, according to its report for the period. Until today, Mokas had 25 asset freeze orders issued worth €116m (by comparison, in 2013 to 2014 the figure was €55.9m) and 45 confiscation orders worth €15.1m (€1.7m in 2013 to 2014).
The increased work volume and consequent results are due to a combination of the more effective implementation of precautionary measures with the automatic reporting system and increased international cooperation amid increased efforts worldwide to clamp down on money laundering, which led to a rise in the number of requests for assistance by peer agencies, the Mokas chief said.
Work load further increased in April when the unit was asked to investigate information involving Cypriot companies and individuals contained in the leaked documents of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, widely known as the Panama Papers. The leaked information included references to politicians, public officials, entrepreneurs, companies, celebrities and criminals who maintained offshore companies in some cases to evade taxes or to launder money.
The issues that arose were mainly related to taxation, Papakyriacou said adding that she did not rule out that illegal activities including money laundering could be involved. “If certain suspicious transactions are found, they could further be analysed and investigated by the unit”.
Mokas investigates and analyses suspicious transactions filed by other entities obliged by law to do so in cooperation with the Cypriot police to trace and secure illicit proceeds so that courts can order their confiscation, she said.