16 Mar 2021
The City watchdog has launched criminal proceedings against taxpayer-owned NatWest for alleged money laundering offences in the first prosecution of a British bank under laws introduced in 2007.
The former Royal Bank of Scotland has been accused of allowing increasingly large cash deposits to be paid into a customer’s account when the transfers should have been flagged as suspicious.
The customer is understood to be Bradford-based gold dealer Fowler Oldfield. A court heard last year that the business, which was raided by police in 2016, had processed up to £2m of criminal money every day in what lawyers called a “sophisticated” money laundering business.
The Financial Conduct Authority and NatWest declined to comment on the customer’s identity. The FCA claimed that NatWest’s controls “failed to adequately monitor and scrutinise” the customer’s activity between November 2011 and October 2016. About £365m was allegedly paid into the accounts, of which around £264m was in cash.
The move will come as a major blow to the bank, which is still trying to shake off its toxic legacy and remains 62pc owned by the taxpayer.
The lender was rescued with £45bn of taxpayers’ money in 2008 after then-Chancellor Alistair Darling was told it was within hours of running out of money and collapsing.
It has been through a brutal restructuring ever since and last year changed its name from RBS to NatWest as chief executive Alison Rose sought to make her mark on the bank and leave behind past associations with the financial crisis.
The FCA’s criminal proceedings against the bank also damage London’s efforts to clean up its image as a global money laundering centre.
Critics have argued for years that the UK’s welcoming markets have provided cover for kleptocrats and criminals to launder money from Russia and other states.
This is the first criminal prosecution by the FCA under money laundering regulations introduced in 2007.
By Lucy Burton and Simon Foy, The Telegraph, 16 March 2021
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