Global financial crime watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Friday said Middle East business hub the United Arab Emirates had been included on a list of jurisdictions subject to increased monitoring, known as its 'grey' list.
In addition to further FATF scrutiny, countries on the 'grey list risk reputational damage, ratings adjustments, trouble obtaining global finance and higher transaction costs, experts say.
The UAE, the region's financial capital and a gold trading hub, will work to implement a FATF action plan to strengthen the effectiveness of its anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing regime, the Paris-based body said in a statement.
The UAE, an oil and gas exporter that touts open-for-business credentials and enables glitzy expatriate lifestyles, has in recent years tightened regulations to overcome an image as a hotspot for illicit money.
The designation is a blow for the country as economic competition accelerates with Gulf neighbor Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and biggest Arab economy.
FATF's 2020 report called for "fundamental and major improvements" by the UAE.
Last year, it founded an Executive Office for Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing after passing an anti-money laundering and terrorism financing law in 2018.
FATF said the UAE has made "significant progress" since a 2020 evaluation by the watchdog on issues around terrorism financing, money laundering, confiscating criminal proceeds and engaging in international cooperation.
"Additionally, the UAE addressed or largely addressed more than half of the key recommended actions from the mutual evaluation report," it said.
It must now demonstrate progress on facilitating international anti-money laundering investigations, on managing risks in certain industries including real estate agents and precious stones and metal dealers, and on identifying suspicious transactions in the economy, FATF said.
Other areas for improvement include using financial intelligence against money laundering, increasing investigations and prosecutions of money laundering cases "consistent with UAE's risk profile," and proactively identifying and combating sanctions evasion.
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