The Government’s security and economic crime minister Ben Wallace has revealed that the Home Office is to begin targeting the property industry harder to bolster its crusade against money laundering.
Speaking at a Treasury select committee hearing, the MP for Wyre and Preston North said too much criminally acquired cash was still being funnelled through the UK’s financial system, and that estate agents were a weak point in the nation’s defences against economic crime.
“It is remarkable how few Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) come from estate agents given that they are the main facilitators,” he said.
“Some 83% of the 621,000 SARs reported every year come from banks but 0.7% are from estate agents.”
Mr Wallace said that if agents did not ‘up their game’ then prosecutions would follow, and said that agents who do business without fulfilling their legal and moral responsibilities were “as bad as the people who traffic drugs.”
He also told the committee that to date the government had focussed on banks role in money laundering, but that other professionals should be required to report suspicious activity as well.
High end agents
Mr Wallace singled out ‘high end’ estate agents in particular for criticism because the UK’s prime properties were seen around the world as a “mark of wealth and respectability”.
His comments came as the Government extended its ‘Flag It Up’ campaign to include estate agents, hoping more will report suspicious activity as they are required to do under recently-introduced and beefed-up anti-money laundering regulations.
To make the point, he revealed that 710 reports were made by estate agents during the last financial year compared to 5,036 by accountants and 2,660 from legal professionals.