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MPs call for changes in how money laundering is tackled

NCA should be given lead role and officers should be given more training, recommends Home Affairs Committee

The London property market is being widely used to wash dirty money, with the equivalent of a “welcome mat” being laid down in the capital for gangsters and fraudsters, MPs say.

The cross-party Home Affairs Committee has demanded changes in how money laundering is tackled, saying the National Crime Agency (NCA) should be made the lead organisation for recovering criminal assets and coordinating partner’s responses.

Currently there are too many different agencies involved, making for a confusing picture and lack of accountability, the MPs believe.

The committee wants asset freezing at the earliest stages of an investigation and has expressed alarm that the most skilled financial investigators are being “poached” from the public sector, saying they government must outline what it is doing about this.

In addition, it is recommended that, upon entry to the service, all police officers should receive at least one full day’s NCA-accredited training in financial investigation.

All detective officers should also receive advanced financial investigation training “on at least an annual basis.”

The electronic system for submitting reports of suspicious activity in the property market to the NCA was found to be “ineffective” and should be replaced, MPs said.

At the same time, just 335 out of some 1.2 million property transactions last year were deemed to be suspicious – suggesting supervision of the property market is “totally inadequate.”

Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, said: “At least a hundred billion pounds, equivalent to the GDP of Ukraine, is being laundered through the UK every year.

“The Proceeds of Crime legislation has failed to achieve its purpose. London is a centre for money laundering, and its standing as a global financial centre is dependent on proactively and effectively tackling money laundering. Investment in London properties is a major route which tarnishes the image of the capital.

“Supervision of the property market is totally inadequate, and poor enforcement has laid out a welcome mat for launderers and organised criminals.”

Among those who gave evidence to the committee was Mark Thompson from the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) Proceeds of Crime Unit, who called for around £1.6 billion in “debt” owed by convicted criminals to be written off by the government because it was in practice uncollectable.

The committee did not go this far but said that to ensure effective scrutiny and avoid skewing confiscation rates, debts should now be split into “collectable” and “uncollectable” categories.

“We are clear that this is in no sense a recommendation to wipe the slate clean,” the committee’s report states. “Rather, this would allow the authorities to concentrate their time on debts which can be collected and when somebody with an outstanding debt comes into significant funds the authorities would then be able to collect that debt.

“Criminals still owe this money, and will accrue interest on their debt to society. There is no expiry date on this debt because crime must never pay.”

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