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Money laundering is a huge problem in UK, with the Government stating that the UK is one of the most attractive destinations for laundering the proceeds of grand corruption, estimating that £90bn of cash is laundered in Britain every year.
And property is one of the most vulnerable sectors, with estimates that £120bn of UK property is owned by offshore entities, much of which has been bought with dirty cash.
This means that estate agents are often the first line of defense against money laundering, and security minister Ben Wallace I urging them to do their duty.
He is concerned that estate agents may not always be reporting their suspicions because, in the last financial year, while accountants submitted 5,036 reports and lawyers, 2,660, estate agents submitted just 710.
He said Estate agents are “a crucial line of defense” against them money launderers and that’s why they’re under a “legal and moral obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss”.
He suggests that many estate agents may see money laundering as a victimless crime, but warns they need to look at the wider picture.
“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.”
Estate agents have a legal duty to file (SAR) when they suspect they are being asked to handle the proceeds of crime, and while the reason why reports are low may be because some are turning a blind eye, it could also be down to poor AML procedures.
Because, while most firms do have AML procedures in place, many are still relying on manual checks which are open to errors.
The fifth revision of the Money-Laundering Directive calls for firms to use ‘electronic identification means’ where available, because electronic identification is the most reliable, secure and efficient source of information for identity solutions.
By using an electronic AML platform like SmartSearch state agents can validate documents and make electronic identification verification through one system. Not only is this quicker and easier than manual checks, but it is also much more reliable, as it can match documents with information from major data suppliers like Experian, Equifax, Dow Jones and Companies House.
Some systems, also offer remote checks, allowing estate agents to check potential customers in their home, making it even easier to comply.
In a world where money laundering is on the rise, it is each estate agents’ duty to do everything they can to prevent it, as Wallace says: “Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear.”