It's worth taking action against unjustified account blocking ...


published on am 22 February 2024 reading time approx. 1 minute

It happens to both companies and private individuals: Suddenly ongoing costs can no longer be met because the bank has blocked the account. 


This is often due to a suspicion of money laundering on the part of the bank, which is obliged under the Money Laundering Act to constantly monitor all of its customers' transactions for anomalies and always require proof of origin in the case of cash deposits of 10,000 euros or more. In some cases, however, banks also become suspicious when much smaller amounts of cash are deposited, especially if the funds are deposited in several instalments, because there is then a suspicion that the threshold value of 10,000 euros is being artificially split into smaller amounts. If the origin of the funds is not clear or does not match the other customer profile or if transfers are made from non-EU countries, the bank will usually submit a so-called suspicious money laundering report to the central office, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), in order to fulfil its own compliance obligation, especially as such a report must already be submitted without there having to be an initial suspicion in the criminal sense.
The crucial question that arises is whether such a suspicious case justifies an account freeze lasting weeks, if not months, which will be difficult to lift, even with legal assistance, and will entail considerable costs for those affected.
Pursuant to Section 46 GwG, the bank may not execute the transaction in question until the FIU releases it or three working days have passed and no feedback has been received from the FIU or a law enforcement authority by then, whereby the supervisory authorities are now increasingly pointing out that there is no automatic deadline for releasing the transaction. The bank would therefore have to check independently and, in the best case, also document in a comprehensible manner whether a further suspension of the transaction appears justified, particularly taking into account the principle of proportionality. The submission of a suspicious activity report therefore does not release the bank from the obligation to carry out its own checks and is by no means a licence to block accounts for months on end.
Whether the path of making banks increasingly liable for the unjustified blocking of accounts and making them liable for the legal costs incurred for the cancellation of the account blocking, which more and more courts are now taking, may help those affected to obtain their rights from a civil law perspective – in the long term, new application instructions on the practice of reporting suspected money laundering by the authorities will become necessary. This will then help everyone: The banks, the affected customers and ultimately the responsible authorities too!


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Dr. Christine Varga-Zschau

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