Lawyers are both “key facilitators” of serious and organised crime, and an “important part” of the response to it, the government said yesterday.
The serious and organised crime strategy launched yesterday by the Home Office said targeting professional enablers like lawyers, accountants and estate agents would be a key focus in efforts to stop the problem at source.
It said a large amount of serious and organised crime “remains hidden or underreported, meaning the true scale is likely to be greater than we currently know”.
“Enabled by their lawyers and accountants, corrupt elites and criminals set up fake companies to help them to hide their profits, fund lavish lifestyles and invest in further criminality.”
The strategy recognised that professionals were an important part of the response to serious and organised crime.
“However, whether complicit, negligent or unwitting, professional enablers are also key facilitators in the money laundering process and often crucial in integrating illicit funds into the UK and global banking systems.”
It said the Home Office would undertake work with HM Treasury “to better understand the pathways for professional enablers with the aim of developing interventions for those at risk.
“We will work with professional associations in the legal and accountancy sectors to ensure any interventions meet the needs of their members.”
The strategy said the Home Office would also expand the ‘Flag It Up’ campaign to increase awareness within the legal and accountancy of money laundering.
“The 2016/17 campaign demonstrated that accountants and lawyers who recognised ‘Flag It Up’ were twice as likely to submit a suspicious activity report, compared to those professionals who did not have knowledge of the campaign,” it said.
The strategy is backed by funding of at least £48m for 2019 to 2020 “to further ramp up law enforcement capabilities to specifically tackle illicit finance”.
Speaking to The Guardian, security and economic crime minister Ben Wallace, warned that professional enablers were very much in the firing line: “The ones who pretend their hands aren’t really dirty and profit from moving dirty money and knowingly conspire … they’re cowards to pretend they’re nothing really to do with it.
“We’re going to make sure that people who are proactively being facilitators are at the front of our queue as much as the actual nominals of the organised crime groups and we’re going to do everything we can to prosecute them.”
The article said that legal regulators, as well as those in accountancy and property, had been warned by ministers that unless they did more to root out illicit activity, their members would face “closer scrutiny”.