The government has announced that a new watchdog is to be launched early next year to oversee the UK’s Anti Money Laundering (AML) regulations, which are due to become law this June.
Called the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS), its job will be to tackle potential weaknesses in the supervision of estate agents that criminals may be exploiting.
The new anti money laundering watchdog will be paid for by what the HM Treasury calls ‘supervisors’; the big accountancy, law and other trade and regulatory bodies. It will be based at the HQ of the Financial Conduct Authority in London.
The latest version of the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds Regulations 2017 is designed to bring the UK in line with international standards and include “robust new standards of supervision”.
They introduce new responsibilities for agents covering when and how they must carry out enhanced due diligence on customers, and how they carry out risk assessments to work out if their business is vulnerable to money laundering attempts.
The regulation in particular ask agents to look more carefully at transfer of funds, a problem highlighted in January when a criminal gang based in London and Dubai were able to apply for a fraudulent bridging loan on a property they did not own, and transfer the money to Dubai without setting off alarm bells.
Industry organisation the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) is worried that, because the new regulations only cover sales agents, much of the money laundering activity may transfer to the rental sector.
“However, within the context of the recently increased legislative burden on letting agents, coupled with the shock announcement to ban letting agent fees in the Autumn Statement, we understand why the Government has chosen not to impose these requirements at this critical juncture,” says David Cox, ARLA Propertymark Chief Executive (pictured).