05 Mar 2019
UK regulators conducted unannounced inspections of 50 estate agents and disclosed fines against Countrywide and other businesses as part of a crackdown on money laundering, HM Treasury said Monday.
The surprise reviews by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officers targeted estate agents suspected of failing to register as required by anti-money laundering (AML) regulations, according to the agency, which described the visits as “the first such week of action involving intelligence-led, coordinated activity” aimed at the property sector.
The inspections, which primarily targeted agents in London, are expected to lead to fines and criminal proceedings for some of the firms, HMRC said.
As part of the announcement, the agency disclosed monetary penalties against nine businesses, including a £215,000 fine against Countrywide for failing to conduct due diligence and comply with recordkeeping and verification requirements.
The agency’s announcement of the penalty follows Countrywide’s disclosure last month that its annual profits had fallen by 50 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year—a decline believed to be at least partly attributable to a housing market weakened by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit talks.
HMRC separately fined Tepilo Limited £68,595 for failing to assess its compliance risks and implement proper due diligence controls. The remained of the penalties disclosed Monday fell below the £6,000 threshold.
“The vast majority of estate agents play by the rules and help us to crack down on dirty money,” said Economic Secretary John Glen, in a statement. “But I have zero tolerance for firms prepared to turn a blind eye to the law.”
HMRC supervises more than 11,000 residential and commercial estate agents in the United Kingdom for AML compliance.
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