Regulation

UK Fines Countrywide In AML Crackdown

U.K. estate agent Countrywide has been fined £215,000 (more than $283,000 USD) for failing to comply with the country's money laundering prevention rules.

According to Financial Times (FT), the U.K. tax authority, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), conducted a week-long investigation into 50 estate agents suspected of trading without being registered. The agency made surprise visits to about 35 companies in London, five in Leicester, four in South Bucks and Berkshire, and three in Greater Manchester, among others.

As a result of the investigations, the agency found that Countrywide did not conduct proper due diligence, adding that it had broken rules concerning “proper record-keeping.” In addition, HMRC implemented a £68,595 fine for online estate agency Tepilo, which shut down in December.

HMRC said the investigation was “the first such week of action involving intelligence-led, coordinated activity aimed at estate agents trading without registering with HMRC as legally required.”

Estate agents who failed to comply with the rules will be subjected to punishment that could include “fines, publication and criminal proceedings.”

“Criminals who seek to use this country as a place to launder money should be in no doubt that they have nowhere to hide," said Ben Wallace, minister for national security and economic crime. “Estate agents are a crucial line of defense against them, and that’s why they’re under a legal — and moral — obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss.”

Countrywide, which saw its profits fall by 50 percent in 2018, claimed it conducted a full review of its anti-money laundering (AML) controls, as well as “taken thorough measures to strengthen the processes that support and monitor compliance throughout the business.”

The company added that it has invested in systems, training and additional employees to boost checks and monitor transactions, “all of which reinforces our ongoing commitment to ensure full compliance with regulatory requirements.”

HMRC has completed more than 5,000 interventions on businesses in the past three years, and handed down penalties worth £2.3 million over 2017 to 2018.

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