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The Central Office for Financial Transaction Investigations – FIU

The Central Office for Financial Transaction Investigations is better known under its abbreviation “FIU”. It handles a large number of suspicious transaction reports concerning money laundering, terrorist financing and other criminal offences, and processes a large amount of personal data.

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The designation “FIU” is derived from the English name “Financial Intelligence Unit”. Worldwide, this abbreviation stands for authorities which are tasked with detecting money laundering and terrorist financing.

The FIU is professionally independent. Its powers are derived exclusively from the Money Laundering Act (GwG). The central task is to receive and analyse reports of suspected money laundering.

Various bodies, such as banks, insurance companies and real estate agents, are obliged to report conspicuous facts to the FIU. A reporting obligation arises whenever there are clues indicating that an asset (e.g. cash) originates from a crime or is to be used to finance terrorism. If a body fails to comply with these obligations, there will be legal consequences.

These reports are to be analysed by the FIU for a connection with money laundering, terrorist financing or any other offence. Depending on the outcome, the prosecution is transferred to law enforcement authorities and/or intelligence services.

The FIU’s unmanageable database

The number of reports to the FIU is steadily increasing. 77,252 reports were indicated in the FIU Annual Report 2018 (source: FIU Annual Report 2018, p. 13), there are already 144,005 in 2020 (source: FIU Annual Report 2020, p.15). Due to current legislative amendments, a further increase is to be expected in the future. The growing number of reports has led to the creation of an unmanageable database at the FIU. At the end of May 2020, there were already 282,584 suspicious transaction reports in the so-called “information pool”. Among them were suspicious transaction reports which were equally submitted, but classified as not having any substantial value, and also unprocessed suspicious transaction reports (source: Bundestag document No. 19/20953).

The measurable successes are in unacceptable disproportion to the above mentioned situation. In 2020, the FIU received 12,618 feedback messages from the investigative authorities on the facts forwarded and therefore 4,947 feedback messages less than in the previous year. Of these feedback messages, only 79 led to a verdict (source: FIU Annual Report 2020, p. 24). This corresponds to a rate of 0.6 %. Charges were filed in 234 cases, representing a rate of 1.85 % of the feedback messages. Compared to the previous year, the low rate increased only minimally.

Although the FIU is explicitly still working below the initial suspicion of criminal activities, it already has extensive search opportunities in the databases of public authorities for the purpose of its analysis. These databases include e.g.: The police information network (INPOL), the Central Register of Foreigners (AZR), the Central Public Prosecution Proceedings Register (ZStV) and access to account master data (account data retrieval).

Your rights vis-a-vis the FIU:

What are my rights?

In order to find out whether your data are also stored in the FIU’s database, you have the right to ask the FIU whether it holds data about you.

In principle, according to Section 49 of the GwG, you have the right of information. If the FIU refuses all or part of the information to you, you may request the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI) to exercise the right of information on your behalf in accordance with Section 58 para. 7 of the Federal Data Protection Act (BDSG).

If data about you are available at the FIU, you have the rights to rectification, erasure or restriction of processing in accordance with Section 37 of the GwG.

Whom should I contact?

You can first exercise your rights vis-a-vis the FIU as the controller:

Zentralstelle für Finanztransaktionsuntersuchungen
Postfach 85 05 55
51030 Köln

Telephone: +49 (0)221-672-0

Where can I file a complaint?

In general, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the BfDI pursuant to Section 60 of the BDSG if you suspect an infringement of your personal data by the FIU.

Questions and complaints relating to data protection at the FIU can be addressed within the BfDI’s office to the competent specialist division  Referat 35 – Bundespolizei, Zollkriminalamt, (“ Division 35 -Federal Police, Customs Criminological Office”). Please also note our general contact information.

Der Bundesbeauftragte für den Datenschutz und die Informationsfreiheit
Graurheindorfer Str. 153
53117 Bonn