Politically exposed person

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In financial regulation, "politically exposed person" (PEP) is a term describing someone who has been entrusted with a prominent public function, or a relative or known associate of that person. A PEP generally presents a higher risk for potential involvement in bribery and corruption by virtue of their position and the influence that they may hold. The terms politically exposed person and Senior Foreign Political Figure are often used interchangeably, particularly in international forums.

Definition by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering[edit]

There is no global definition of a PEP, although the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) "provisions [...] are the international standard".[1] Most countries have based their definition on the FATF definition.[2]

According to FATF, a PEP is:

  • a current or former senior official in the executive, legislative, administrative, military, or judicial branch of a foreign government (elected or not)
  • a senior official of a major foreign political party
  • a senior executive of a foreign government-owned commercial enterprise, being a corporation, business or other entity formed by or for the benefit of any such individual
  • an immediate family member of such individual; meaning spouse, parents, siblings, children, and spouse's parents or siblings
  • any individual publicly known (or actually known by the relevant financial institution) to be a close personal or professional associate.

The FATF definition is not intended to include middle-ranking or more junior individuals.

As of February 2012, the FATF definition of a PEP was revised to include domestic PEPs, bringing the number of PEP types to three – a foreign PEP, a domestic PEP and a person who is a senior member of an international organization.[3] Most FATF member countries treat domestic and foreign PEPs with heightened scrutiny. The distinction between a foreign and domestic PEP is problematic, because a person can be a foreign PEP everywhere in the world except in their own country. For example, China's President and General Secretary of the Communist Party, is a PEP everywhere except in China. The same is true for Canada's Prime Minister. In order to address this artificial distinction, the FATF Guidance says that if a person is a foreign PEP, that de facto makes them a domestic PEP in their own country. Logically, this makes sense for crime prevention purposes because in order to export proceeds of crime, the PEP must first use their own domestic financial system and thus, more importance should be placed on domestic, and non-foreign PEPs.[4]


The designation “Politically Exposed Person” dates back to the late 1990s, in what was known as the “Abacha Affair.” Sani Abacha was a Nigerian dictator who organized (with his family members and associates) a network of massive theft of assets from the government of Nigeria. It is believed that several billion dollars were stolen, and that the funds were transferred to bank accounts in the United Kingdom and Switzerland.[5]

In 2001, the Nigerian Government that succeeded the Abacha Regime made an effort to recover the money.[6] It lodged complaints with several European agencies, including the Federal Office of Police of Switzerland which investigated close to sixty Swiss banks.[7] In this investigation, the concept of “Politically Exposed Person” emerged, which was later included in the 2003 United Nations Convention against Corruption[citation needed] and European Union law in 2004.[5]

PEP-specific compliance legislation addresses the link between corrupt politicians, money laundering and the financing of terrorism.[citation needed]Since September 11, 2001, more than 100 countries have changed their laws related to financial services regulation, combatting political corruption.[citation needed] Heavy fines have been imposed on financial institutions for conducting business with PEPs without following adequate procedures, as in the case of Riggs Bank.[8] Despite attempts at regulation, political leaders like Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak made news for having frozen assets in US banks that did not follow due diligence. [9]


Most financial institutions view a PEP as a potential compliance risk and perform enhanced monitoring of accounts that fall within this category. Screening for PEPs is usually performed at the beginning of account opening, called initial due diligence or Know Your Customer. Screening of accounts periodically is performed as part of ongoing due diligence. The process of due diligence to uncover PEPs can be time consuming and requires screening against a reputable database of known PEPs, usually close to 1 million profiles, against the names, dates of birth, national identification numbers and photos of clients.[citation needed]

Politically exposed foreign person or PEFP (Canada)[edit]

Canada only considers foreign PEPs to pose a money laundering and terrorist financing risk.[10] Under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act[citation needed], a politically exposed person is a foreign national who holds, or has held, one of the following offices or positions in or for a foreign country:

  • Head of state
  • Head of government
  • Member of the executive council of government
  • Member of a legislature
  • Deputy minister or equivalent
  • Ambassador or attaché
  • Counsellor of an ambassador
  • Military officer with a rank of general or above
  • President of a state-owned company or a state-owned bank
  • Head of a government agency
  • Judge (any level), leader or president of a political party represented in a legislature

With respect to any of the above positions or offices, the list includes the person’s spouse, Common Law partner, children, parents, in-laws, and siblings.

In Canada, financial entities, life insurance companies, life insurance brokers and agents, securities dealers and money services businesses are required to treat foreign PEP clients with heightened scrutiny, and for certain transactions, to establish source of funds when a PEP is involved.[citation needed]

Politically exposed person or PEP (UK)[edit]

The UK definition of a PEP is found in the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 Section 14(5)[11]

A politically exposed person is considered any individual who fits any of the criteria listed below:

  • A foreign person who has held any time in the preceding year a prominent public function outside the the United Kingdom, in a state or international institution
  • Members of courts of auditors or of the boards of central banks
  • Ambassadors, chargés d’affaires and high-ranking officers in the armed forces
  • Members of the administrative, management or supervisory bodies of state-owned enterprises
  • Heads of state, heads of government, ministers and deputy or assistant ministers
  • Members of parliaments
  • Members of supreme courts, constitutional courts or of other high-level judicial bodies

The definition explicitly excludes middle-ranking or more junior officials.

A PEP also relatives and close associates. Relatives and close associates include a spouse, a partner, children and their spouses or partners and parents. Close associates include any individual who is known to have joint beneficial ownership of a legal entity or legal arrangement, or any other close business relations. It also includes any individual who has sole beneficial ownership of a legal entity or legal arrangement which is known to have been set up for the benefit of a person referred to in regulation.

The 4th EU AML Directive will update the definition of a PEP to include domestic Politically Exposed Persons. [12][13]

Foreign official or Senior Foreign Political Figure (USA)[edit]

The term foreign official has been used by US enforcement agencies relating to persons who have similar characteristics as PEPs, as referenced in the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.[citation needed] It is used in all industries, not only by financial institutions. The Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) did not use the term PEP in its regulations as of 2010.[14] Suspicious activity requires a financial institution to fill out a suspicious activity report to FinCEN. The term 'Senior Foreign Political Figure', as defined by section 312 of the USA PATRIOT Act is to a great extent similar to the definition of PEP, but excludes middle-ranking or more junior individuals.[citation needed] The term is recognized (and defined) by the 'Wolfsberg Group' of eleven global banks.[15]

See also[edit]


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