Risks Associated with Politically Exposed Persons

16 mins

In the world of finance and global transactions, the term "Politically Exposed Person" or PEP has become increasingly significant. PEPs are individuals who are or have been entrusted with a prominent public function, which can potentially put financial institutions at risk for money laundering and corruption-related activities. Therefore, understanding PEPs and the associated risks is crucial for compliance and maintaining the integrity of financial systems.

In this article, we’ll delve into the concept of PEPs and the risks involved. We will also explore the importance of PEP screening as part of a robust compliance program.


Key Takeaways

  • Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) are individuals who hold or have held significant public positions.
  • PEPs are considered at a higher risk of engaging in corruption and money laundering due to their influence and access to public funds.
  • Financial institutions and regulatory bodies have established strict guidelines to identify and manage PEP-related risks.
  • Conducting PEP checks is essential to ensure compliance with anti-money laundering regulations and mitigate the potential risks associated with PEPs.
  • PEP checks involve verifying an individual's political exposure, assessing their source of wealth, and monitoring their financial transactions.


What Is a Politically Exposed Person (PEP)?

A Politically Exposed Person is someone who holds or has held a high-profile position in government, often with substantial influence over policy and decision-making. Due to their status and the nature of their position, PEPs are at a higher risk of being involved in bribery and corruption. It's important to note that being a PEP does not imply wrongdoing. However, it does necessitate a higher degree of scrutiny in financial dealings.

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Categories of PEPs

PEPs are usually categorized into the following:

  • Foreign PEPs: Individuals who hold prominent public positions outside of the financial institution's country.
  • Domestic PEPs: Individuals with significant public roles within the financial institution's country.
  • International Organization PEPs: Persons who hold a position in international organizations, such as the United Nations or World Bank.


What is An Example of a Politically Exposed Person?

People who are politically exposed include:

  • Heads of state or heads of government
  • Senior government officials and politicians
  • Officials from the military or the judiciary
  • Senior officials from government-owned businesses
  • Members of high-ranking political parties
  • PEPs include close associates such as immediate family members and support employees

It’s tough to compile a list of politically exposed people because the criteria are so broad and differ from country to country. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) makes periodic suggestions on PEPs, making a precise PEPs list even more difficult.

Most countries, on the other hand, base their PEP definitions on FATF recommendations, which categorises PEPs as follows:

Senior Government Officials

Current or former government officials who have been assigned to positions in the domestic government or in a foreign government could be politically exposed. This could include leaders of state or people in elected or unelected positions in the executive, legislative, administrative, military, or judicial departments.

Members of Political Parties

One category of PEPs is senior officials appointed to positions in major political parties in the United States or abroad.

Senior Executives

Individuals functioning as senior executives in government-owned commercial firms or international organisations, including directors or board members, may be labelled PEPs.

Relatives, Close Associates and Support Employees

PEPs might also include relatives and close associates (RCA). They include immediate family members such as spouses, parents, siblings, children and spouses’ parents and siblings. Support staff, especially of a government official, are also part of the list.

What Are the 4 Risk Levels for PEPs?

It is critical for financial institutions to understand the level of risk that their clients pose because this can influence how much scrutiny is applied to them as part of the risk-based strategy. Although the status of PEPs does not predict criminal activity, the heightened risk exposure it involves necessitates additional anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CFT) protocols when establishing a commercial partnership.

It also means that these organisations must conduct ongoing monitoring to ensure that any changes in a PEP’s risk profile are not overlooked. The purpose of the PEP screening regulations is to prevent illegal behaviour.

Depending on one’s position, there are varying degrees of risk that a politically exposed person can bring.

High Risk Level 1

This category generally includes:

  • Political party officials at the highest levels
  • Members of parliament (national and regional)
  • Military, judicial, and law enforcement leaders, as well as members of the central bank board of directors
  • Members of the government (national and regional)

Medium Risk level 2

This category includes:

  • Military, judicial, and law enforcement officers at the highest levels
  • High-ranking civil employees and officials from various governmental agencies and entities.
  • Senior members of religious organisations
  • Diplomats include ambassadors, consuls, and high commissioners, to name a few.

Medium Risk level 3

This risk category includes senior management and board of directors of state-owned businesses and organisations.

Low-Risk level 4

This category includes:

  • Members of municipal, country, city, and district assemblies, as well as mayors
  • International or supranational organisations’ senior leaders and functionaries

The Risks of Dealing with PEPs

Engaging with PEPs carries inherent risks due to their ability to influence public policy and control government resources. Here are some of the risks associated with PEPs:

Money Laundering and Corruption

PEPs can potentially abuse their position to embezzle funds, accept bribes, or be involved in other illicit financial activities. Their transactions may include large sums of money, which can be a red flag for money laundering.

Reputational Damage

If a financial institution is found to be involved with a PEP engaged in corrupt activities, it can suffer significant reputational damage. This can lead to a loss of customer trust and potential partnerships, as well as regulatory sanctions.

Regulatory Penalties

Failing to properly identify and screen PEPs can result in hefty fines and penalties from regulatory bodies. Financial institutions are expected to have adequate PEP screening processes in place to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.

Identifying Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs)

Identifying Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) is a critical step for financial institutions and other entities to comply with anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism financing (CTF) regulations. PEPs are individuals who hold prominent positions in government, military, or international organizations, and their association with these positions exposes them to higher corruption and bribery risks. Here are key points to consider when identifying PEPs:

  • Definition and Criteria: Various jurisdictions provide definitions and criteria to identify PEPs. These definitions typically encompass high-ranking government officials, heads of state, political party leaders, and senior executives in state-owned enterprises. The criteria may also extend to family members and close associates who could potentially exploit their connections.
  • Reliable Data Sources: Financial institutions rely on reputable data sources to screen individuals and determine their PEP status. These sources include public registers, government databases, international organizations, and commercially available PEP databases. Accessing up-to-date and accurate information is crucial to ensure effective PEP identification.
  • Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD): Financial institutions are required to implement enhanced due diligence measures for PEPs due to their higher risk profiles. This includes gathering additional information about the source of funds, business relationships, and the purpose of the transaction. EDD measures help identify and mitigate the potential risks associated with PEPs engaging in illicit activities.
  • Ongoing Monitoring: Identifying PEPs is not a one-time process. Financial institutions must establish robust systems for ongoing monitoring of customer relationships. Regular screening of customer databases against updated PEP lists helps identify any changes in PEP status or new PEPs entering the system.

By effectively identifying PEPs, financial institutions and other entities can strengthen their AML and CTF frameworks, mitigate risks, and ensure compliance with regulatory obligations. Vigilance in PEP identification plays a vital role in safeguarding the integrity of the financial system and preventing illicit activities.

PEP Screening: A Critical Compliance Measure

PEP screening is the process of identifying and performing due diligence on individuals who may be considered PEPs. It's a preventive measure that helps financial institutions manage the risks associated with PEPs.

Elements of PEP Screening

  1. Identification: The first step is to identify whether a client or potential client is a PEP. This involves checking their name against various PEP lists and databases.
  2. Risk Assessment: Once identified, a risk assessment is conducted to determine the level of risk the PEP poses. Factors such as the PEP’s country of origin, the nature of the public position, and the level of authority can influence the risk level.
  3. Enhanced Due Diligence: For high-risk PEPs, enhanced due diligence procedures are carried out. This may include gathering additional information about their sources of wealth, business relationships, and the purpose of the intended business relationship with the financial institution.

Best Practices for PEP Screening

  • Regularly update the PEP list and database to ensure all information is current.
  • Train employees to recognize PEPs and understand the associated risks.
  • Implement automated systems to flag potential PEPs for further investigation.
  • Document all PEP screening processes for accountability and regulatory compliance.

The Global Landscape of PEP Regulation

Regulations surrounding PEPs vary by country but are generally shaped by international bodies like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The FATF provides guidelines for the identification and treatment of PEPs, which member countries are expected to implement.

FATF Recommendations

The FATF recommends that financial institutions take reasonable measures to determine whether a customer or beneficial owner is a PEP. This involves obtaining senior management approval for establishing business relationships with PEPs, conducting enhanced ongoing monitoring, and ensuring that these measures are part of the institutions' Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Countering Financing of Terrorism (CFT) policies.

Read More: Managing Politically Exposed Person Risks: Insights from FATF Guidance

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Challenges in PEP Identification and Screening

Despite the clear guidelines, financial institutions face challenges in PEP identification and screening.

Data Quality and Availability

Access to accurate and comprehensive data is essential for effective PEP screening. However, not all countries maintain detailed public records, which can hinder the identification process.

Evolving Regulatory Requirements

Regulations can change rapidly, and financial institutions must stay updated to remain compliant. Adapting to new requirements can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive.

Balancing Customer Experience and Compliance

While compliance is non-negotiable, it's also important not to hinder the customer onboarding experience. Finding the right balance between thorough screening and efficiency is a constant challenge.

Conclusion: Mitigating PEP-Related Risks

To mitigate the risks associated with PEPs, financial institutions must adopt comprehensive PEP screening processes as part of their wider compliance framework. By doing so, they protect themselves against involvement in corrupt activities, preserve their reputation, and contribute to the fight against global financial crime.

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