Obligation to identify

Since 2 February 2004, law firms, when handling certain client matters fall within the scope of the preventive part of the anti-money-laundering legislation (Law of 11 January 1993 for the prevention of the use of the financial system for money laundering and the financing of terrorism). This legislation aims at precluding money laundering and the financing of terrorism and within this purpose imposes to lawyers a number of imperative obligations, of which the non-compliance can lead to disciplinary sanctions and administrative penalties.

Our attorneys are required, first of all, to identify our clients and to request and retain in confidence a certain number of proofs of this identity. Throughout the entire length of the relationship with the client, lawyers are moreover under a duty of care that may lead them to require additional information.

This information- and carefulness duty exists not only towards our clients – natural and legal persons –, but also towards their representatives, such as company directors.

When our attorneys become aware, while handling one of the matters referred to in the law, of facts which they know or have reason to believe have a connection to money laundering or financing terrorism, they are under a legal obligation to bring these to the attention of the head of their bar immediately, except when their assistance consists of analysing the client's legal position or defending or representing the client in (or in relation to) legal proceedings. It is up to the head of the bar to decide whether or not any information received is to be transmitted to the Belgian Financial Intelligence Processing Unit (“Cel voor Financiële Informatieverwerking”).

These obligations of course do not prejudice the professional secrecy and legal privilege which continues to characterise the relationship between the client and his lawyer.

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