The Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”) confirmed in March that it will be writing to a “large number” of firms (400) asking to see evidence of compliance with the Money Laundering Regulations 2017 (“MLR 2017”). A failure to respond to the SRA request can have regulatory and criminal consequences.
Recent political statements as to the role professionals can play in money laundering by “providing a veil of legitimacy to organised criminals” has led to a focus on “lawyers, accountants and estate agents [who] are too often woven into their web.”
2018 saw a major drive across government to tackling illicit finance and economic crime on the basis that “corruption and economic crime undermines our economy, damages our international reputation and communities.” (December 2018 Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017-20 1 Year Update” see our related blog. Key initiatives included the launch of the National Economic Crime Centre (November 2018 see our related blog) and the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy (November 2018).
In December 2018, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) published its report on the UK regime to counter money laundering (ML) and terrorist financing (TF). The report praises the strength of the UK regime, noting that the UK has a ‘robust’ understanding of ML/TF risk, and proactively investigates, prosecutes and convicts ML and TF. The report cites that the UK achieves “around 7900 investigations, 2000 prosecutions and 1400 convictions annually for stand-alone ML offences or where ML is the principle offence”.
At the end of last year the National Crime Agency published its annual report on Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) for 2018. Media reporting (such as in the FT, subscription required), on the annual report has focussed, amongst other things, on the relatively small proportion of SARs made by lawyers. Is this a fair criticism and, if so, what is the reason for it?