Money-laundering crackdown to hit private schools and estate agents

Money-laundering crackdown is launched against top private schools, law firms and estate agents in bid to stop £100billion ‘McMafia’ racket

  • Ben Wallace MP has called on big businesses to alert authorities to dirty money 
  • The security minister announced a major multi-million pound crackdown to make Britain ‘clean’ for business after £100bn was laundered into the system 
  • The public is being asked to report illicit cigarette sales and dodgy businesses 

British businesses, law firms and top private schools who fail to help prevent £100bn of money laundering have been warned they will now face consequences for staying silent, security minister Ben Wallace has warned.

Football clubs, luxury car garages and estate agents will be being closely watched during a new government crackdown on the huge sums of illegal money entering the banking system.

The bolstered response will include specially trained police officers and a cash injection for intelligence operations by the National Crime Agency.

During the economic crime crackdown the government will ‘go after the status’ of the worst culprits, Mr Wallace told The Guardian.

He said: ‘The ones who pretend their hands aren’t really dirty and profit from moving dirty money and knowingly conspire … they’re cowards to pretend they’re nothing really to do with it. They are the ultimate.

‘It’s like the McMafia programme, they comfort themselves by being at wonderful events and not getting their hands dirty, but their hands are as dirty as the person trafficking the child that they’re making their money from.

Ben Wallace, Britain’s Security Minister has announced a major crackdown on money laundering making its way from big businesses into the banking system

‘We’re going to make sure that people who are proactively being facilitators are at the front of our queue as much as the actual nominals of the organised crime groups and we’re going to do everything we can to prosecute them.’

The Government faced widespread criticism after the Panama Papers revelations in 2016. While Mr Wallace admitted not enough had been done, he said Britain now needs a reputation for being ahead of criminals and being a ‘clean’ place to do business.

Mr Wallace announced the set-up of the new multi-agency national economic crime centre launching on Thursday.

Resources will be ploughed into finding offenders – and their work has been handed an extra £48m for intelligence-led operations.

Wallace explained they will punish anyone taking part in illegal crime – or turning a blind eye to it – by making sure those in charge of the businesses cannot continue to live their lavish lifestyles in the UK.

He said: ‘Part of that is going after the status. If all you can go shopping with is a Tesco Clubcard, you’re not really much of a gangster are you?’ he said.

‘If you’re denied your ability to spend your ill-gotten gains, if you can’t go and buy a flash car or a box at a sporting event or a nice house in Belgravia, if you can’t do any of that then you strip away the ability for them to launder their reputation.’

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He added: ‘We need to go after the people who have not played their part in hardening the environment and reporting. So the purveyors of luxury goods, the public schools, the sporting institutions, who don’t ask many questions if suspicious people come along with cash or other activities, we will come down on them.’

Treasury minister John Glen has already warned regulators in the law, accountancy and property they will be watched closely.

Scottish limited partnerships will also be under scrutiny over fears dirty money is being laundered into the UK that way.

Mr Wallace also warned the public.

He called on people to call out the sellers of illicit cigarettes, cash deals in nail bars and bootleg goods.

He said: ‘Actually what they don’t realise is that the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ is a guy who might push 10 packs of fags in that bar but he is [also] pushing a container and actually next week he doesn’t bring in a container of drugs he trafficks some children.

‘It goes to the heart of how passive do you want to be? Those middle class people taking themselves into the nail bar in the local high street who don’t think they’re really fuelling organised crime, well they are. The point of this is that we all have a role to play.’  

Last week, schools were ordered to report irregularities, such as parents asking to pay huge fees in cash.

Donald Toon, of the National Crime Agency, said public schools must play their part in stopping dodgy funds getting into the banking system. 

Mr Wallace drew comparisons with the McMafia show in which the English-raised son of an exiled Russian crime family tries running a legitimate business

‘I would certainly expect that anyone who is taking money, and that could be a school or whoever, to take responsibility,’ he said.

‘They have a responsibility to carry out customer due diligence and they have a responsibility if they are suspicious to file a report. The UK is attractive and one of the reasons it is attractive is people can put their children through very high quality education.’

Asked how often schools formally tip off the authorities, Mr Toon added: ‘Very infrequently – the number is absolutely tiny.’

The NCA is at the forefront of work to seize dirty overseas cash and assets, and drive undesirable foreign nationals out of Britain. It estimates that more than £100 billion in unexplained cash and assets flows through the country every year.

Senior investigators insist their inquiries are not focused solely on Russians, and also include those with links to the Far East, Africa and Middle East.

But the agency’s work has struck fear in the Russian expat community, with some asking Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin if they can return home.

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