Can the AML system be evaluated without better data
The Anti-Money Laundering regime has been important in harmonizing laws and institutions, and has received global political support. Yet there has been minimal effort at evaluation of how well any AML intervention does in achieving its goals. There are no credible estimates either of the total amount laundered (globally or nationally) nor of most of the specific serious harms that AML aims to avert. Consequently, reduction of these is not a plausible outcome measure. There have been few efforts by country evaluators in the FATF Mutual Evaluation Reports (MERs) to acquire qualitative data or seriously analyze either quantitative or qualitative data. We find that data are relatively unimportant in policy development and implementation. Moreover, the long gaps of about 8 years between evaluations mean that widely used ‘country risk’ models for AML are forced still to rely largely on the 3rd Round evaluations whose use of data was minimal and inconsistent. While the 4th round MERs (2014–2022) have made an effort to be more systematic in the collection and analysis of data, FATF has still not established procedures that provide sufficiently informative evaluations. Our analysis of five recent National Risk Assessments (a major component of the new evaluations) in major countries shows little use of data, though the UK is notably better than the others. In the absence of more consistent and systematic data analysis, claims that countries have less or more effective systems will be open to allegations of ad hoc, impressionistic or politicized judgments. This reduces their perceived legitimacy, though this does not mean that the AML efforts and the evaluation processes themselves have no effects.