The government is creating a massive database to monitor the banking activities of everyone living in Spain, with the goal of fighting money laundering and funding for terrorist activities.
Judges, prosecutors, police officers, intelligence agents and the Tax Agency will have access to the 34 million bank accounts, assets and deposit accounts included in this database.
This is the first time that the financial activities of all Spaniards and residents have become the targets of such a program. France and Germany are the only other European countries to have adopted the system.
The new rules come on the back of recommendations from the Financial Action Task Force, an international association to which Spain belongs, along with 35 other countries.
Under the new rules, banks will have the legal obligation to provide information about all their checking and savings accounts, financial assets and deposits, including the names of the account holders.
But Spanish lenders’ branches in other countries will not be subject to this accumulation of data, which will be managed by the State Secretary’s Office for the Economy and Support for Business.
Neither the State Council nor the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) have raised any objections to the creation, storage and access to the private accounts of all Spanish residents, according to an official source in the Economy Ministry.
“The amount of money in the accounts will not show up, but the identity of the account owners and other authorized users will,” said ministry technicians.
But legal sources consulted by this newspaper stressed that this type of information request is only feasible with a prior court order.
“It would be a scandal for, say, the CNI, which answers to the government, to freely access those files: it could be used politically as a weapon against their political adversaries, besides violating the basic rights of citizens by bypassing the court authorization,” said one source.
The Union of Progressive Attorneys (UPF) said that for the police to have access to this information, there must be a criminal investigation underway to justify it.
Rubén Sánchez, spokesman for the consumer association FACUA-Consumidores en Acción, noted that the project has a loophole: “The big tax evaders, the ones the government should go after, will have an easy time avoiding government control by using non-Spanish banks that do business in tax havens.”
Who eventually gets access to this sensitive information will be determined by Spain’s legal watchdog, the General Council of the Judiciary, as well as the Attorney General’s Office.
Records will be kept with the name of the agency that filed the information request and the reasons for doing so. “Open-ended, generic or approximate searches will not be allowed,” reads one of the rules of this new project, which the government passed via a royal decree.
The state secretary for the economy will now determine the minimum requirements for approving information requests. Eduardo Torres Dulce, the Attorney General, will designate an attorney to ensure the database is “used properly.” His office had repeatedly requested the creation of such records.
Besides the lenders, notaries, registrars, lawyers and insurers will also be obligated to check the identity of all individuals who make transactions of €1,000 and above when doubts exist regarding this identity.
In the case of account owners who are companies, foundations and other legal entities, the name of the person who acts in their name will have to be provided.
The rules establish reinforced measures of due diligence for transactions considered more likely to be used for money laundering, such as money transfers of more than €6,000 a month, or transfers to and from tax havens. Clients who are not residents in Spain, companies with very complex structures and holding companies are considered high-risk in this sense.
An account into which a significant number of people make deposits is also defined as “suspicious.” All transactions in a foreign currency worth €30,000 must be notified by the bank to the authorities on a monthly basis.
All information about a particular account will be deleted 10 years after it is closed.
The Spanish Banking Association estimates there were some 33.6 million checking, savings and deposit accounts in 2012.
The Economy Ministry has two years to implement the project.