The National Association of Estate Agents is awaiting a response from the government to its demand for four changes to sale and purchase processes in a bid to combat money-laundering.
In one of the association’s first major statements on the issue since the Channel 4 From Russia With Cash documentary, an announcement yesterday afternoon - posted jointly with the anti-corruption group Transparency International - asked the government to step up to the plate and ensure:
- all foreign companies were as transparent as UK companies over their ultimate beneficial ownership if they wish to hold property titles in the UK;
- anti-money laundering checks should be carried out by estate agents on the purchaser, not just the seller, of high-value property;
- estate agents who break the rules and support criminal money laundering should face “meaningful punishment and sanctions”; and
- support for the property industry to ensure that estate agents adhere to anti-money laundering regulations.
Transparency International, perhaps predictably, has been the most outspoken about the issue.
“The rhetoric from the Prime Minister about stopping the flow of corrupt capital coming into the UK has been very strong, but now is the time for real action. The veil of secrecy over UK property ownership needs to be lifted to ensure the UK is no longer a safe haven for dirty cash and we look forward to working with the Government to this end” says Nick Maxwell, head of advocacy and research at Transparency International.
Meanwhile NAEA managing director Mark Hayward says he and agents await either government plans or a timeline for consultations on providing more transparency over foreign and offshore ownership of UK property.
“The recent documentary From Russia with Cash demonstrated that there is still not absolute clarity in relation to anti-money laundering among those in the property sector, despite the very clear legislation in place and regular training and updates from within the industry. It is now time to step up the level of scrutiny that the sector comes under to ensure that a small minority of agents do not support criminal activity and those that do are appropriately sanctioned“ says Hayward.