The National Crime Agency have today warned estate agents that they must not hesitate to inform the authorities if they have any suspicion that a buyer is seeking to launder money by means of purchasing a property.
The warning was given in an interview in The Times by the NCA’s economic crime command director Donald Toon, in respect of issues highlighted in the Channel 4 documentary ‘From Russia with Cash’ that was aired a couple of weeks ago. Five different estate agencies were named in the programme: Winkworth, Marsh & Parsons, Domus Nova, Chard and Bective Leslie Marsh.
Donald Toon states in his interview that “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.”
He claims that foreign criminals are laundering billions of pounds through house purchases in the UK, predominantly in the prime central London area. He indicates that London house prices are being tilted as a result of purchases by criminals “who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”.
Toon goes on to express how he is in a state of “alarm” at the number of homes registered to intricate offshore corporations. The Times say the Treasury has earned £150m in just the past three months from a tax on properties purchased by companies, trusts and investment funds, rather than individuals.
The Times say when the tax was first in operation in 2013/14, it raised £100m from 3,990 houses, with 80% of the revenue coming from two London boroughs – the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
The programme that has caused much discussion since it aired, followed a ‘politician’ – supposed to be a Russian government minister in order to see how agents would react to a plan to use millions of pounds of stolen money to purchase high end property in the capital.
The RICS and the National Association of Estate Agents are taking the claims extremely serious and have announced that they will hold separate investigations into the allegations made in the programme.
This is indeed a serious matter that has to be addressed and The National crime Agency needed to issue this warning. Although there is a percentage of agents that may act carelessly, the majority of agents will continue to follow the strict procedures that they already have in place to target money laundering.