News 16th Oct 2020

Action - not words - makes money launderers feel the heat

Daniel Bruce

Chief Executive

Daniel joined Transparency International UK as Chief Executive in October 2019. He is an experienced senior leader in international charities, previously serving as Chief Executive of the press freedom and media development organisation Internews.

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The UK has become a safe haven for dirty money. Police estimate in excess of £100 billion in illicit funds are laundered through the UK every year. Far from being harmless, it is key to how criminals, sanctions-busters, people traffickers, and corrupt officials enjoy the rewards of their illicit acts. The victims left behind include entire populations robbed of public funds to communities terrorised by organised criminals.

But last week the fight against financial crime in the UK got a real boost.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) announced that land and properties worth £10 million had been surrendered by a Leeds businessman suspected of laundering money on behalf a violent criminal gang in West Yorkshire.

The NCA used a relatively new weapon in their armoury called an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO). In specific circumstances relating to serious crimes or inexplicably enriched public officials, this powerful tool helps law enforcement to seize assets like property or luxury goods if their legitimate ownership cannot be adequately explained.

For instance, in this case, a UWO produced over a hundred lever-arch files of documents which enabled the police to mount an investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Businessman Mansoor ‘Manni’ Mahmood Hussain, has no criminal record, but he did have close links to major organised crime figures in the region, and chose to reach a settlement with the police rather than defending his case in court.

International corruption cases are even less likely to result in criminal convictions, so UWOs are designed to flush out evidence from political associates that have enjoyed impunity in the countries they have stolen from. UWOs came into force in 2018, before that it had been almost impossibly hard to act on dirty money here which originated abroad.

Consequently, Britain finds itself to be a favourite destination for the corrupt to stash their ill-gotten gains. Our research has found 421 properties worth an estimated £5billion bought with suspect wealth – and this figure is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

After the conclusion of the case last week, law enforcement should have renewed confidence to increase the use of UWOs to pursue the billions of pounds in illicit and suspicious wealth hidden away in the UK.

The police need the tools and the resources to do so. If the Government deliver on their plans to introduce a register of the people behind the foreign companies that own property here, that would really help. The proposed Economic Crime Levy could also help fund the IT systems needed to process reports of suspicious activity and the skilled investigators to pursue them.

As tools like the UWO show, talking about getting tough on financial crime isn’t what makes the difference. Turning these words into action is what will challenge Britain’s reputation as a global hub for dirty money.

 

Header image credit: William - stock.adobe.com