‘Crackdown’ on agents breaking anti-money laundering law – but not one prosecution

Not a single prosecution has been brought under the latest anti-money laundering regulations, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The latest rules were brought in almost two years ago, in June 2017.

However, an answer by the Home Office to the FoI put by law firm Eversheds Sutherland, says there were no prosecutions between June 2017 and last October.

No prosecutions were outstanding during that period. The figures are due to be updated this month.

The current AML regime was brought in to crack down on money laundering and the financing of terrorism, by requiring certain sectors – including estate agents, who are supervised by HMRC – to take certain actions.

Under the previous AML regime, 11 prosecutions were brought between 2013 and June 2017.

Ruth Paley, a lawyer at Eversheds Sutherland, said: “These statistics do not sit easily with the UK government’s assertion that it is successfully cracking down on economic crime and holding money launderers to account.”

The revelation, in The Times, follows news that HMRC paid surprise visits to 50 agents suspected of trading without being registered for AML.

At the same time, HMRC announced that Countrywide had failed at group level to ensure policies, controls and procedures, and was fined £215,000.

Also fined were two online firms, Tepilo and Settled, penalised £68,595 and £3,245 respectively.

Rhys David, CEO at AML consultancy firm Credas, told EYE:“This week’s announcement by HMRC is a timely reminder that for Estate Agents the regulatory landscape in the UK is a tough one.

“HMRC have provided plenty of warning that they would issue fines and name and shame. With further money laundering legislation coming into force in the shape of AMLD5 in less than 12 months, agents can no longer keep burying their head in the sand and assume it won’t happen to them.

“Having said that, more support and guidance is required from the supervisory bodies as this is a complex area where sufficient resource, skill and experience is needed.”

James Dobson, marketing director at AML platform SmartSearch, said: “Far too many estate agents are still not taking their money laundering obligations seriously enough.

“It is estimated that around £120bn of UK property is owned by offshore entities, much of which has been bought with dirty cash.

“This means that estate agents are a crucial line of defence against money laundering, which is why they have a legal obligation to ensure their AML processes are fit for purpose.

“Complying with AML regulations manually is a cumbersome process, but there are now a huge number of electronic solutions.

“With technology like this available, there is no reason for any estate agents not to have the correct AML processes in place.”

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5 Comments

  1. ArthurHouse02

    These sorts of regulations were never about catching criminals, it is all about bringing more money into government coffers.

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  2. ArthurHouse02

    Also…how can they claim much of the £120 billion of uk property is bought with dirty cash if only 11 prosecutions have been brought in the last 6 years and none in the last 2. Not burying my head in the sand, but is buying property with the proceeds of crime largely a myth?

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  3. Woodentop

    Estate Agency is an easy choice for ML intelligence. No-one should be surprised and as it is now legislated, anyone who object to being used by the government need to recognise todays reality …. tough. The process is simple and reporting is only necessary when ML is suspected which most won’t ever come across? I haven’t seen any evidence that actual ML is a daily event for every agent in the country.

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    1. Ostrich17

      Ironically, this is playing out well for the local agents who really know their clients and also most of their buyers.  
       
      The call-centre listers and, to a lesser extent, the corporates are easy targets for HMRC who, quite sensibly, will go for the low-hanging fruit !

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  4. IWONDER36

    The economy would collapse if every bit of dirty money ceased to flow through it. That’s true of most buoyant economies.

    Start with nightclubs, takeaways, taxi companies, scrap dealers, political party donations like those allegedly reported from Aaron Banks.

    Or just start by being truthful instead scapegoating estate agents.

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