Commercial flexibility or crime? The Brussels criminal court takes a stringent position

On May 9, 2018 the French speaking Brussels criminal court sentenced a lease company in luxury cars and its director for (a.o.) money laundering (the repressive laundering law (and most severe as far as punishment is concerned)). The company was condemned to pay a fine of 90.000 EUR (half of it conditional). The director was condemned to a 10 month imprisonment and a fine of 6.000 EUR; both conditional.

Furthermore, the court confiscated 11.000,00 EUR of illegal turnover.

This judgement is relevant for everyone active in the business of sales/rent of luxury cars, but also for jewelers, art dealers, real estate agents… In other terms, everyone who services a more ‘exclusive’ market. Indeed, their products are popular with people who have difficulties in spending illegal money which was often not declared to the Tax Administration. They often spend this money to luxury products.

The court condemned the company and its director because they regularly accepted significant amounts in cash without, in any way, checking the financial situation of their customers nor the origin of the money. These are however essential conditions of the preventive laundering law which applied to the company at stake. Such a check would have enabled them to make an assessment which is crucial for a money laundering crime (repressive legislation): i.e. whether in some cases any legal origin of the money could be excluded. Even more so as the director was aware of the judicial problems of some of her customers. The court sees in this last element an additional proof of the fact that the director was aware of the illegal origin of the money. The court finally also mentioned, specifically for the company, that it should,as a leasing company subject to the preventive money laundering law and all his restrictions, have acted in a precautionary way against money laundering.

The importance of this judgment is twofold:

  • the director is blamed for having ignored the judicial problems of some of her customers: even if everyone is presumed to be innocent, the director should have ended some of her customer relations;
  • the company is blamed for not being adequately organized with regard to money laundering prevention while it is expected to be vigilant on this point.

The criminal court has thus condemned both the director and the company because they were too indulgent towards money laundering prevention and avoidance.

Companies and executives who are submitted to the preventive money laundering law should comply with the regulations which apply to them. Even more so as the law of September 18, 2017 was significantly expanded and became more stringent on certain aspects.

The judgement is final, as no party appealed it.

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