Euro zone may order independent money laundering audit in Cyprus

BRUSSELS Wed Feb 6, 2013 11:40am EST

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Euro zone finance ministers will discuss on Monday a Cypriot proposal to order an independent report on whether the country is fully complying with laws against money laundering, a senior EU official said.

The report would be a response to German and others' concerns that Cyprus, which asked the euro zone for financial help last June, has been a tax haven for rich Russians.

Euro zone finance ministers, called the Eurogroup, will meet on Monday in Brussels to review progress on the 17.5 billion euro ($24 billion) bailout negotiations for Cyprus, whose banks have been hit by Greece's debt restructuring.

The senior EU official said on Wednesday that Cyprus made the recommendation in the Eurogroup Working Group, a body that prepares euro zone finance ministers' meetings.

The official explained that Cyprus already had a positive report on its laws from the Council's of Europe's anti-money laundering committee MONEYVAL.

The new report could focus more on the actual application of the legal framework in place in Cyprus than was positively verified by MONEYVAL, the official said.

Choosing a private auditor for the job, rather than an international institution, would mainly be guided by the need for speed, the official said.

Euro zone ministers want to take a final decision on the Cyprus bailout in the second half of March, possibly in a special teleconference, the official said, and commissioning a report from an institution would take longer than that.

(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)