The COVID-19 pandemic defined the year 2020, disrupting lives, social dynamics and economies.
At a time of rapid change that created new opportunities for illicit behaviours, facilitated by social distancing and the public health emergency, the anti-money laundering system proved responsive as well as flexible at both an organizational and an operational level. Changes had to be made to work practices and to the interactions between the system's private and public segments and between the UIF and the other competent authorities, although the effectiveness of the work carried out remained unaltered, and may even have increased.
The UIF gave increasing technical and methodological support to assist the obliged entities in sending suspicious transaction reports, SARA reports and threshold-based communications , especially in the first months of the pandemic.
The system did not fail to respond: in 2020, STRs increased significantly, totalling over 113,000 reports, almost 2,300 of which relating to risks linked to the health emergency.
The UIF issued two Communications aimed at easing the process of intercepting criminal phenomena linked to the health crisis in an effective and timely manner, and that direct the reporting entities' attention to the main risk areas and to specific anomalies.
Contacts with the Public Administration were reinforced by searching for synergies that would allow analyses to benefit from the data at its disposal, which is particularly significant in the current emergency period due to the risks correlated to the measures to support the economy.
Cooperation with the National Anti-Mafia Directorate, the Finance Police and the Anti-Mafia Investigation Department was stepped up, also through weekly exchanges regarding financial transactions concerning the COVID-19 emergency conveyed in STRs and in communications with foreign FIUs. The UIF considerably strengthened its cooperation with the judicial authorities, whose requests increased by over 40 per cent compared with 2019.
Strategic analysis, which was already working on developing indicators for the risks organized crime infiltrating businesses, focused on catching signs of the criminal phenomenon evolving, favoured by the pandemic.
Cooperation with other FIUs helped to intercept cross-border suspicious transactions carried out to take advantage of the health crisis and the measures to support the economy. There was an increase in information exchanges concerning cyber frauds, facilitated by the greater use of the web observed during this period. This cooperation enabled fraudulent transfers to be traced, and in some cases the prompt freezing of any assets located, which could then be recovered.
The emergency considerably sped up the reform programme for reviewing the European anti-money laundering system. The European Commission's Action Plan for an integrated policy for the prevention of money laundering and the financing of terrorism established the need for a Supranational FIU Coordination and Support Mechanism. Italy, in agreement with the Ministry of Economy and Finance, advocated for a Joint Position between Member States on the duties and characteristics of the future Mechanism.