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Money laundering: agents warned by National Crime Agency

Estate agents have been warned by the National Crime Agency that they must not hesitate to inform the authorities if they have any suspicion that a buyer is seeking to launder money via the purchase of a property.

The warning - in an interview in The Times with the NCA’s economic crime command director Donald Toon - comes in the wake of the Channel 4 documentary From Russia With Cash.

Toon tells the newspaper: "If [estate agents] have a suspicion that there may be money laundering involved, then they absolutely should be submitting a suspicious activity report. You are at risk of committing a criminal offence if you do not do that."

Toon claims that foreign criminals are laundering billions of pounds through house purchases in the UK, particularly in prime central London. He says London house prices are being skewed as a result of purchases by criminals "who want to sequester their assets here in the UK".

He expresses his "alarm" at the number of homes registered to complex offshore corporations. The newspaper says the Treasury has earned £150m in the past three months alone from a tax on properties purchased by companies, trusts and investment funds, rather than individuals.

The Times says when the tax was first in operation in 2013/14, it raised £100m from 3,990 houses, with 80 per cent of the revenue coming from two London boroughs - the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

Five estate agencies were named in the Channel 4 programme, From Russia With Cash -  Winkworth, Marsh & Parsons, Domus Nova, Chard and Bective Leslie Marsh. 

The show followed a ‘politician’ - supposed to be a Russian government minister - to see how agents reacted to a plan to use millions of pounds of stolen money to purchase high end property in the capital. 

So far the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National Association of Estate Agents have announced they are to hold separate investigations into the allegations made in the programme.

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    On the one hand we are being told to report any suspicions,(fair enough) and on the other we are told how it is done ie Offshore trusts. Simple then, tell your gangster client to open an offshore trust, there are many companies setting these up for about £1500 (I believe the BVI are best for property) and then there is no suspicion or blame on the estate agent.

  • Kelly Evans

    So, because of the actions of a few agents in From Russia With Cash, we're all going to be tarred with the same brush. That figures.

    Yes, thank you, the National Crime Agency, most of us are aware of our responsibilities and we follow procedures and regulation to the letter. You don't need to patronise us in this way!

  • Tom  Harrington

    Didn't quite realise just how prolific this money laundering business is, clearly this warning from the National Crime Agency was needed. Although it does seem as if all agents again are being tarred with the same greedy, careless brush, when in fact it's only a tiny minority of agents.

  • Helen Godbold Eade

    Good to bring this into the public arena for discussion, but it's not 'all' agents who are guilty of brushing things under the carpet, just a minority. The conveyancing solicitors used in the transactions have a responsibility too....a huge responsibility, to check out the buyer as part of the anti-money laundering process - let's not forget the lawyer!

  • Emma  Mitchell

    Yes I agree Helen, it's good that these matters are brought to everyone's attention as it's clearly impacting the industry we're in. Although it's vital that we're not all scared into thinking this is a widespread industry problem, when in fact it's only a minority.

  • Neil Briggs

    Well said, Helen. Everyone involved in the process has to do their job right otherwise money-laundering and other illegal practices might be allowed to take place. Most agents exercise great caution and always notify the relevant authorities if they suspect anything untoward, but there is no harm in agents being reminded about their duties. If we want to stamp out this sort of corruption in the property industry, once and for all, then we need to work together to clamp down on it.

    Those agents involved in From Russia With Cash let themselves and the agencies they work for down in the worst possible way. Hopefully, in future, agents won't think twice if they spot or hear of any suspicious behaviour.

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