Channel 4 admits to using what it calls “unusual” secret filming techniques and an undercover reporter posing as a Russian politician to target five high end London estate agents in a bid to see how they operate to counter money laundering.
It is believed that the agents on camera include Winkworth, Marsh & Parsons, Domus Nova, Chard and Bective Leslie Marsh. The programme, From Russia With Cash, will be shown on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm.
It will follow the ‘politician’ - supposed to be a Russian government minister - to see how agents react to a plan to use millions of pounds of stolen money to purchase high end property in the capital.
Channel 4 says the hour-long programme uses unusual secret filming techniques, including multiple cameras in different positions to give a fuller picture of the interactions with agents.
The Guardian newspaper claims that despite being made aware they are dealing with "ill-gotten gains" at least some of the estate agents agree to continue with a potential purchase.
In several instances the estate agents recommend law firms to help a buyer hide his identity. One estate agent names a “very, very good lawyer … the last person I put them was another minister of a previous Soviet state” in a deal worth £10m, the newspaper says.
Marsh & Parsons told The Guardian: “We are aware of the scheduled Channel 4 programme and we wait to see what the content of this might be.”
In a statement to the newspaper Winkworth said it had been told of the allegations but had “yet to see the evidence ourselves” and added: “However, given the seriousness of the allegations, we have commenced an investigation and await a final copy of the documentary before it can be concluded. We require our agents to be fully compliant with both legal requirements and estate agency best practice at all times. Winkworth has a longstanding reputation and seeks to uphold the highest of standards.”
Domus Nova did not respond to the Guardian but told Channel 4: “Our agent who attended the single viewing informed us that he strongly believed it to be a hoax. We recorded the viewing on our AML log, despite not having any ID information for the fake buyer, and requested that an offer was made through solicitors registered in England and Wales. No offer was made and therefore no transaction was in prospect. We therefore acted entirely appropriately and in accordance with AML regulations and our own internal procedures.”
The Guardian contacted Chard but it did not reply. However the company told Channel 4 that its estate agent had “discussed his concerns with a reputable firm of London solicitors and sought their advice”. It said: “Had a formal offer to purchase the property been made, the company’s anti-money laundering checks and procedures would have followed.”
Emails from The Guardian to Bective Leslie Marsh were not answered but the firm told the filmmakers: “We take this matter extremely seriously as we do all legislation for our industry, to which we are fully committed. As an agent operating in Chelsea, we have a diverse international clientele and encounter a whole range of requests, statements and assertions on a daily basis which we do our best to filter.
Back in January it was claimed that many hundreds of billions of pounds of criminal money was likely to be laundered annually through the UK.
Keith Bristow, the head of the National Crime Agency, said in a speech in the United States that an estimated £24 billion of global organised crime proceeds may be funnelled annually through the British financial system and hoarded via UK investments.
"The high transaction volume, language, developed financial services industry, and political stability of the UK, makes our financial system particularly attractive to money laundering - despite the measures to identify and stop it" he said at the time.
Now the National Association of Estate Agents is launching an investigation into the issue, condemning those agents who flout the law and ethical guidelines as tarnishing the entire industry.