It’s been revealed that Countrywide has been hit with a £215,000 fine as part of a swoop by HMRC cracking down on money laundering in the property sector.
Other hefty fines also include the now-defunct Tepilo online agency, fined £68,595.
The revelation came in a statement today from HMRC about a programme of unannounced inspections made on agencies.
HMRC officers visited 50 agencies across England after they were suspected of trading without being registered as required under money laundering regulations.
The 50 have not been identified but 35 were in London, five in Leicester, four in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire combined, three in Greater Manchester and one in each of Watford, Wakefield and Wolverhampton.
HMRC says it will now take action against the visited businesses who have failed to comply - in addition to a string of agencies named and shamed today.
Penalties for agencies just visited can include fines, publication and criminal proceedings.
Simon York, Director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, says: “Estate agents need to understand that criminals prey on weaknesses, so it’s vital they take all steps to protect themselves. The money laundering regulations are key to that, but there’s still a minority of agents who ignore their legal obligations. These inspections are a wake-up call that if you continue to trade illegally we will come knocking.”
This is the first such week of action involving intelligence-led, co-ordinated activity aimed at estate agents trading without registering with HMRC as legally required.
The visits involved HMRC inspectors questioning the businesses to establish whether they were trading in breach of the regulations. Inspectors then assess whether any further action is required.
John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, says in a statement today: “The vast majority of estate agents play by the rules and help us to crack down on dirty money. But I have zero tolerance for firms prepared to turn a blind eye to the law. Money laundering regulation exists to help protect honest business, so anyone who flaunts the law should know that swift action will be taken.”
Ben Wallace, Minister for National Security and Economic Crime, adds: “Criminals who seek to use this country as a place to launder money should be in no doubt that they have nowhere to hide. Estate agents are a crucial line of defence against them and that’s why they’re under a legal – and moral – obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss.
“It’s wrong to think of money laundering as a victimless crime. Those with dirty cash to clean don’t just sit on it – they reinvest it in serious organised crime, from drug importation to child sexual exploitation, human trafficking and even terrorism.”
The Countrywide and Tepilo fines were levied in the third quarter of last year but only revealed today as part of a list released by HMRC naming agencies and other companies which it says were not complying with the Money Laundering Regulations 2017. It's here.