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.