China seeks revision of anti-money-laundering law to address risks related to cryptocurrencies and other virtual assets

China will soon implement revisions to its outdated Anti-Money-Laundering (AML) Law, in a move that legal experts see as a way to address the growing risks associated with virtual assets.

A draft amendment to the existing AML law, which was enacted in 2006 and took effect in 2007, was discussed at a State Council meeting chaired by Chinese Premier Li Qiang, and will be submitted for review by the national legislature, according to a recent report by state-run news agency Xinhua.

While the full text of the draft amendment has not been made public, the specific aim of the proposed revision is to combat money laundering with virtual assets, according to a January 31 report of Chinese digital news media Jiemian, which cited two legal scholars.

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Money laundering related to the use of virtual assets is currently the “most urgent and most necessary” issue to tackle at a legal level, said Yan Lixin, executive director at the China Centre for Anti-Money-Laundering Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, according to the Jiemian report.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang last month chaired a meeting of the State Council that discussed a proposed amendment to the country’s existing Anti-Money Laundering Law. Photo: EPA-EFE alt=Chinese Premier Li Qiang last month chaired a meeting of the State Council that discussed a proposed amendment to the country’s existing Anti-Money Laundering Law. Photo: EPA-EFE>

Beijing’s latest anti-money-laundering initiative reflects the government’s commitment to keep pace with Web3 developments such as non-fungible tokens and other virtual assets, while keeping steadfast with the country’s draconian ban on cryptocurrency operations including crypto mining and trading.

The proposed AML law amendment, which is expected to be passed next year, will address new types of money-laundering risks, according to the Jiemian report, citing Peking University Law School professor Wang Xin, who is involved in the discussions about the law’s revision.

A senior prosecutor with the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Zhang Xiaojin, earlier this month vowed to intensify efforts against money laundering and illegal foreign exchange trading crimes. Zhang, who heads the Fourth Procuratorial Office, said that would involve sharpening their focus on prosecuting crimes related to the use of digital currencies to transfer assets abroad.

Chinese authorities have increased their scrutiny of crypto-related money-laundering cases in recent years. In 2022, police in the northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region arrested 63 people for laundering 12 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) using cryptocurrency.

Revising China’s AML law to address virtual asset-related risks “makes sense”, as international standards and best practices have evolved “significantly”, said Andrew Fei, a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons in Hong Kong.

“China’s AML legislation has not undergone a major revision since it was first enacted more than 17 years ago,” Fei said. “The world is a very different place now. For example, bitcoin was not even invented when China’s AML law first came into effect.”

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based intergovernmental money-laundering and terrorist-financing watchdog, has already set out detailed recommendations to address virtual assets in the proposed AML law amendment.

While that task force rated the mainland as “largely compliant” with its virtual asset-related AML recommendations, its 2020 assessment report indicated that several criteria do not apply to China because the country has prohibited crypto activities.

China should take into account the relevant FATF recommendations in amending the AML law, according to King & Wood Mallesons’ Fei. He suggested that a “possible way to address these risks is for China’s amended AML law to expressly refer to virtual assets and to give authorities additional powers and tools to target the unique issues arising from virtual assets and new technologies”.

“Although virtual currencies and related activities are banned in China, the borderless and decentralised nature of virtual-asset transactions means that these can still have either a direct or indirect impact on China, especially when used for nefarious purposes,” Fei said.

“China’s focus on combating AML risks associated with virtual assets is broadly consistent with the approach taken in, and urgency felt by, other major countries around the world.”

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2024 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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