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What is Money Laundering?

In its simplest form, money laundering is the process criminals use to disguise the origin of financial proceeds which are obtained illegally. 

This is usually achieved by passing the money through various "washing" stages, so that it can be returned to the launderer and spent or invested legitimately. 

Money laundering enables and underpins the majority of organised crime; in the UK alone, it's thought that £90 billion is laundered every year. 

In order to process their cash, money launderers often take advantage of legal financial services or organisations, such as banks and estate agents, who are usually unaware of their environment. 

This is why it's crucial to make sure that your business is AML compliant. 

The Three Stages of Money Laundering 

The money laundering process can be broken down into three steps, which are as follows: 

1. Placement

This is when a criminal’s money initially begins to circulate in cash form. The money moves away from its original source, so that it can be disguised. There are several different methods used in the placement stage, including the purchase of valuable assets, large current exchanges or even bank complicity. Bank complicity refers to the role of a financial institution which is controlled or exploited by criminals.

2. Layering

In this second stage, money is passed through a sequence of transfers to make it harder for law enforcement to track where it came from. Cash might be moved abroad into offshore accounts, turned into monetary instruments (bank drafts, or cheques) or invested in other companies.

3. Integration 

The proceeds now return to the person who began the money laundering process. After it has been through stages one and two, the money is considered “clean” rather than “dirty”, and will bear no signs of criminal activity. This is the objective of laundering money; from this point, illegally obtained cash can be used in a legal capacity.

This is a top-line summary; some sophisticated money laundering operations have methods in place to avoid placing their proceeds into circulation in the first place, which makes them harder to detect.

Common Money Laundering Examples

Money laundering may not always appear as you'd expect it to. In the UK, money laundering is defined by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Or POCA), and includes the following: 

  • Tax Evasion

  • Theft

  • Fraud

  • Bribery

  • Corruption

  • Smuggling Funds

  • Modern Slavery

  • Human Trafficking

  • Drug Trafficking

  • Illegal arms sales

The five money laundering offences

The POCA also details the principal money laundering crimes, for which you can be prosecuted and charged. There are five main offences, which are outlined below:

  • Helping an individual or a business to retain the proceeds of criminal activity.

  • Obtaining, owning or using the proceeds of crime.

  • Hiding or transferring the proceeds of crime, in order to avoid charges.

  • Suspecting that money laundering is taking place, without disclosing it to the relevant authorities.

  • Informing a person of interest that they are being investigated for suspected money laundering.

AML Compliance: Why is it important?

Simply put, AML regulations protect your business from exploitation by criminals. If these regulations apply to your business or organisation, then putting the necessary policies in place is an important step that will hugely reduce the risk of money laundering.

Until recently, AML regulations were determined by the four directives in place in the UK, including the POCA, but a fifth directive was implemented on January 10th 2020, which includes important updates. Firms are required to meet all AML regulations, but there is no set method for implementing them. The easiest way to ensure your business is AML compliant is using a complete AML service, like SmartSearch.

Failure to comply with AML regulations is breaking UK law, and can have serious consequences for your business. As well as damaging the reputation of your firm, you could incur a sizeable fine, face criminal charges and restrictions on future trading.

SmartSearch can help

In order to protect the businesses made vulnerable by money laundering, AML regulations are constantly changing, and this can make it difficult to keep up with the requirements of AML compliance.

SmartSearch provides an end-to-end AML solutions, including initial checks, screening for sanctions and PEPs, and ongoing monitoring, all accessible from one user-friendly platform.

So whether you’re a small business, completely new to AML regulations, or a large accountancy firm with a solid grounding, SmartSearch can help you monitor your clients, be ready for auditing and prevent fraud.