The British government has launched a drive to get the property sector to file more suspicious activity reports (SARs), as part of a campaign to combat money laundering across a number of professions, including law and accounting.
British real estate is regarded as one of the main sectors that wealthy and foreign criminals use to launder the proceeds of crime.
Despite this, workers in the sector appear to have taken relatively far less action in alerting the authorities of suspicious activities that could be related to money laundering – during April 2017 to March 2018, estate agents submitted 710 SARs compared with accountants submitting 5,036 and independent legal professionals submitting 2,660, government figures show.
Announcing the extension of the Flag it Up campaign into the property sector, the government said it is urging estate agents to file a SAR to the National Crime Agency (NCA) when they spot signs such as a client being evasive or contradictory about the source of a large sum of money or using many different bank accounts.
Flag It Up has been targeting solicitors and accountants since 2014 and 2015 respectively, and is now expanding for the first time into the property sector with support from HMRC, which supervises estate agents under the money laundering regulations.
The government will work with professional bodies including the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, to ‘help estate agents spot the signs of money laundering and reinforce their legal and moral obligations to report suspicious activity.’
Mark Hayward, Chief Executive of NAEA Propertymark, said:
“Both small and large estate agencies are susceptible to criminal activity. Houses bought with laundered money often sit empty, taking homes away from the market that could be used for families and having a further negative impact on the wider community.
“By partnering with the campaign, we are pleased to see the Government engaging with the sector to support estate agents in their legal anti-money laundering obligations.”
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