Yesterday, the Parliamentary Committee on Economy approved a proposal which entitles diamond traders to a current account, even if this is refused by banks.
Diamond dealers have not been able to open a new current account with a Belgian bank for years. The banking federation Febelfin says that the risk of money laundering in the diamond sector is too high and that banks can be held jointly liable if there are fraudulent transactions. In recent years, Antwerp diamond dealers have, out of necessity, opened a current account with Indian banks or the Dutch bank ABN Amro.
Member of Parliament Michael Freilich (N-VA) has now submitted a bill to oblige banks to accept diamond dealers as customers. That proposal was approved yesterday in the Parliamentary Committee on Economy. “From now on a bank has to give a personal motivation if it refuses to open a current account for a diamond trader. A general motivation, for example that the diamond sector does not qualify, does not count anymore“, says Freilich. “We hope that this already solves the problem. But we go further than that. If a diamond trader faces a refusal three times at a bank, he can apply for a basic banking service. That means that the Chamber can compel a bank to give a diamond trader a current account and to make transfers, if the Anti-Fraud Centre doesn’t object. The Federal Public Service Economy then designates a bank that must accept the diamond trader as a customer“.
For the sake of clarity: it only concerns basic transactions. The government cannot oblige a bank to give a loan to a diamond trader.
“This is a revolution,” says spokesman Margaux Donckier. “Today, diamond merchants don’t even get a chance to submit a file to a Belgian bank.”
The bill has yet to be adopted in plenary session in September or October. After that, banks would be given another six months to prepare for the new regulation.
The Febelfin banking federation is opposed to the requirement to accept diamond traders as customers, partly because banks are obliged to give reasons for rejecting certain customers. “The anti-money laundering law prohibits this in certain cases in order to guarantee the proper functioning of the anti-money laundering cell“, Febelfin writes on its website.
The proposal was drawn up in response to the diamond sector, but applies to all sectors. Newspaper shops, for example, that are not allowed to open a current account, can also make use of the law if it has been voted on.
Problem of the current account for diamond traders has been dragging on for a very long time
As early as September 2018 the newspaper De Tijd already titled
“Diamond dealers and banks close to agreement on current accounts.”
“The Antwerp diamond sector and banking sector Febelfin are coming close to an agreement whereby diamond companies will regain access to banking services. This has been announced by Federal Minister of Economy Kris Peeters (CD&V) on Thursday at an electoral debate organized by the diamond industry“.
That same week, Febelfin confirmed that the conversations about a basic banking service were constructive, but nuanced the situation. The organization indicated that the modalities were still being worked on, so that a final agreement had not yet been reached.
That is still not the case. Consequently, since the closure of KBC’s Antwerp Diamond Bank in 2014, many Belgian banks have refused any service to the entire Antwerp diamond sector.