Estate agents have once again been warned by the National Crime Agency that it is imperative the authorities are informed should they have any suspicion that a buyer is looking to launder money through the purchase of a property.
The fresh warning, in an interview for The Times with the National Crime Agency’s economic crime command director Donald Toon, comes after a Channel 4 documentary entitled From Russia With Cash.
Mr Toon tells the newspaper, ‘if estate agents have a suspicion that there may be money laundering involved, then they absolutely should be submitting a suspicious activity report (SAR).’ Toon warns agents, ‘you are at risk of committing a criminal offence if you do not do that.’
Toon claims that foreign criminals are laundering billions of pounds through successful house purchases in the UK, with central London in particular being targeted. He believes that property prices in the capital are being skewed as a result of purchases by rogues, ‘who want to sequester their assets here in the UK.’
Another feature that alarms Mr Toon are the total number of homes registered to complex, offshore firms and corporations. The Times suggests that the Treasury has gained £150m in the last three months from a tax on homes bought by companies, trusts and investment funds, as opposed to individuals.
The newspaper says that when the tax first came in force in 2013/14, it raised £100m from 3,990 homes. 80% of this revenue came from just two boroughs-the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Agents warned over money laundering by NCA
In the Channel 4 documentary, five estate agencies were named. These were:
*Marsh & Parsons
*Bective Leslie Marsh
In From Russia With Cash, a fake politician, posing as a Russian Government Minister, is followed to see how agents respond to his supposed plan to use millions in stolen cash to purchase prime property in the capital.
At present, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National Association of Estate Agents have said that they are to hold investigations into claims made in the episode.