Dear friends,

More than three years ago, Vanuatu was deemed compliant with global standards by the Financial Action Task Force(FATF), the ultimate authority on anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML-CFT). However, one of the FATF’s member organizations, the European Union (EU), decided to draw an AML-CFT list of its own and to keep Vanuatu on it despite our compliant status with the FATF. 

Vanuatu’s government and private sector have long been waiting for guidance from the EU on how to get off the list. In 2020, we learned that the issue at stake had probably something to do with the definition of the ultimate beneficiary ownership for trusts and foundations. But if specific steps are to be taken in order to resolve that issue, it seems that nobody in Vanuatu has received clear indications yet as to what those steps would be.

In January 2021, Vanuatu prepared and lodged an extensive response to the EU (14 pages). In April of this year, there finally was a technical meeting between Vanuatu authorities and the European Commission’s competent authority: DG FISMA. According to all participants, it went extremely well and Vanuatu stood up and answered transparently all queries, and the overall feeling was that the whole situation had been due to miscommunication and quid pro quo rather than factual irregularities. The general understanding was that from then on, Vanuatu simply had to wait for the bureaucratic machine of the EU to digest that new information; Vanuatu was virtually out of the list, it was just a question of days or weeks. 

In the email correspondence that ensued, DG FISMA (EU) repeatedly mentioned a form of written guidance (a “benchmark”) that was in the process of being updated and would be sent to Vanuatu very shortly. A June commitment was missed, then one in August. Every time DG FISMA (EU) was reminded of its latest commitment, it replied by stating, once again, that the “benchmark” was in the works and would be sent shortly. The latest such commitment was received in Vanuatu on October 6.

In light of this information, you will be surprised to hear what the EU ambassador to Fiji and the Pacific, His Excellency Sujiro Seam, had to say during a public video call with Vanuatu business leaders on Sept. 29. According to him, it’s the EU who’s waiting after Vanuatu. And it’s Vanuatu who was supposed to submit some draft legislative proposals for review by the EU by the end of September; the commitment has been missed. 

Listen to him and/or read the transcript here

Evidently, we have entered a cat-and-mouse game which is not fun at all since we are playing with the economic development of a poor country. Not only the EU has been unjustly associating Vanuatu with financial crime for more than three years now, but they’re adding insult to injury by accusing us of missing deadlines when they are the ones making endless postponements.

Also worth highlighting is this passage in the latest email from the European Commission’s DG FISMA (EU), dated October 6: 

Concerning the benchmark that Vanuatu will have to comply in order to be delisted from the AML/CFT HRTC list, it is currently being finalised and will be sent to you shortly. ‘’ 

So the only reason to explain why the people in charge of the list keep Vanuatu on it is that they are still working on a document that will explain how to get removed – and it takes them forever to prepare that document. 

Does this mean that they don’t even know why Vanuatu is there in the first place? 

After more than three years of useless wait and wasted opportunities, the EU blacklisting saga has reached yet another level of grotesquerie. 

Martin St-Hilaire