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UK revises anti-organised crime strategy to target professional 'facilitators'

Thursday, 1 November, 2018

The UK government has launched a GBP48 million anti- 'serious and organised crime strategy', under which it will engage the accountancy, legal and property sectors to combat money laundering by organised criminals.

Regulators of these sectors have been warned that their members will face more scrutiny and may risk a prison sentence unless they do more to identify suspicious activity.

The strategy was announced by Security Minister Ben Wallace today (1November 2018). It will be overseen by the new multi-agency National Economic Crime Centre, prioritising the most serious offenders and the professionals who 'facilitate' their illicit financial transactions.

'We are going to make sure that people who are proactively being facilitators are at the front of our queue as much as the actual nominals of the organised crime groups, and we are going to do everything we can to prosecute them', said Wallace. Banks are already filing thousands of suspicious activity reports every year, but estate agents, accountants and lawyers must make additional efforts, he said.

He claimed that UK authorities had begun 68 serious crime investigations since 2016, as well as seizing GBP1.6 billion in assets since 2010, and freezing hundreds of millions more.

According to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, significant legislative progress has been made since the predecessor strategy was published in 2013, but organised criminals are continually exploiting new technology to improve their methods. In some foreign countries, he said, criminals have created safe havens where serious and organised crime, corruption and the state are interlinked and self-serving.

'There is a direct link between the drugs being sold on our streets, including the violence linked to that trade, the networks trafficking vulnerable children and adults into the UK, the corrupt accountant laundering criminal funds through shell companies overseas, and corrupt politicians and state officials overseas who provide services and safe haven for international criminal networks', said Javid.

The strategy notes that the UK's role as a global financial centre and the world's largest centre for cross-border banking makes it vulnerable to money laundering. 'There is a realistic possibility that the scale of money laundering impacting the UK annually is in the tens of billions of pounds', it says. 'This presents significant reputational risk to the integrity of the UK's financial sector...Professionals such as lawyers and accountants are an important part of the response to serious and organised crime. However, whether complicit, negligent or unwitting, professional enablers are also key facilitators in the money laundering process and often crucial in integrating illicit funds into the UK and global banking systems.'

'Our aim is to protect our citizens and our prosperity by leaving no safe space for serious and organised criminals to operate against us within the UK and overseas, online and offline', the strategy document says. 'Denying perpetrators the opportunity to do harm and going after criminal finances and assets will be key to this...We will use new and improved powers and capabilities to identify, freeze, seize or otherwise deny criminals access to their finances, assets and infrastructure, at home and overseas including Unexplained Wealth Orders and Serious Crime Prevention Orders.'