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New U.K. watchdog to close money laundering loopholes

Jaclyn Jaeger | July 25, 2017

The U.K’s new Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) said that it will tackle potential weaknesses in the supervisory system that criminals and terrorists may be trying to exploit.

OPBAS marks the latest step in the government’s crackdown on money laundering and terrorist financing, working in partnership with the private sector to tackle these threats. The watchdog will raise standards across the supervisory regime and ensure supervisors and law enforcement work together more effectively to help identify and tackle criminals.

“The government is delivering the biggest reforms in a decade to tackle money laundering and terrorist financing,” Economic Secretary Stephen Barclay said in a statement. “The new watchdog will work closely with private sector, strengthening our partnership to ensure the UK remains a global leader in the fight against corruption.”

“We are making sure that businesses do not have to shoulder unnecessary burdens, while taking the vital steps to disrupt and punish criminals,” Barclay added.

The U.K. has 25 AML supervisors, 22 of which are accountancy and legal services providers’ professional bodies. These professional bodies bring substantial benefits to the regime, but having several organisations supervising the same sectors risks inconsistencies which criminals may look to exploit. Research shows that serious and organised crime costs the U.K. at least £24 billion a year.

OPBAS will work with those professional body AML supervisors to help ensure consistently high standards of supervision, with resources focused on the greatest risks whilst minimising unnecessary burdens on the vast majority of legitimate businesses. It builds on the 2017 Money Laundering Regulations (MLRs) that came into force 26 June and set the standards that AML supervisors must meet.

OPBAS will have powers to help and ensure professional body AML supervisors meet those standards, including the power to publicly censure or recommend Treasury remove professional bodies that do not comply with their requirements in the MLRs. Complementary safeguards will be in place so that professional bodies have opportunities to engage with OPBAS before any penalty is issued and, if necessary, to appeal a decision.