Obligation to identify clients
The applicability of the 'preventive aspects' of the anti-money laundering legislation (Act of 11 January 1993 on Preventing Use of the Financial System for Money Laundering) have been expanded by the Belgian legislature to include attorneys. The text was published in the Belgian Bulletin of Acts and Decrees (Act of 12 January 2004, B.S. 23 January 2004) and took effect on 2 February 2004.
The new law is designed to combat both money laundering and financing of terrorism. This means that attorneys form one of the professional groups that must now report certain transactions and comply with a number of administrative obligations.
Attorneys are only obliged, however, to observe the preventive aspects of the anti-money laundering legislation if they act in the name or for the account of their client in any financial or property-related activity (purchasing or selling property or businesses, management of money, negotiable instruments or other assets, contributions made in the context of incorporation of companies and so forth).
Suspicious transactions must be reported to the Head of the Bar Association, who, in turn, transmits the information to the Cel voor FinanciŽle Informatieverwerking [Belgian Financial Task Force]. There is one major exception to this basic reporting obligation, i.e. if the situation concerned involves advice regarding or assistance in potential or pending legal proceedings.
An identification obligation has been created: an attorney working on the transactions described above for a new client must ascertain the client's identity with supporting documents. In addition, continuous vigilance must be exercised throughout the relationship with the client. With respect to existing client relationships, identification must be made within one year after the aforementioned provisions have taken effect. In all the situations mentioned above, the attorney and the Head of the Bar Association are prohibited from disclosing to the client or a third party that the information was reported or that an investigation is pending.
Violation of the aforementioned obligations can be punished by the disciplinary authorities with an administrative fine for the attorney and publication of the decisions and measures taken.