UK is a centre of money laundering. Tough laws are needed to end it

08 Dec 2016
The UK is an ‘enabler of corruption’ and ‘the role of the UK as a centre of global money-laundering is widely acknowledged. There is considerable data. These are not the verdicts of some stereotypical anti-bank campaigner, intent on soaking the rich. They are the considered assessments of independent and widely respected experts Global Witness and Transparency International UK. The UK has a money laundering problem, and action is required to deal with it.

The mechanisms of global financial corruption and money laundering taint all those who come into contact with them. The biggest losers are primarily the populations of the least developed economies, where multi-national corporations, corrupt local agents, and sometimes governments work to plunder the wealth of the nation and enrich themselves. This can and has led to the generalised corruption of society in some instances.

The financial facilitators of this corruption are the banks or other major financial institutions, operating through a complex network of trusts, managers and personal wealth funds in a series of offshore tax havens. No great financial crime can be committed without them. A key conduit in this network are the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, who are subject to wholly inadequate regulation.

This was revealed in the publication of the ‘Panama Papers’. The release of the Panama Papers in April 2016, just prior to the London Anti-Corruption Summit, exposed the extent of tax evasion and tax avoidance through tax havens around the world. It also highlighted the UK’s involvement in such schemes. Approximately half of the companies, over 113,000 in total, which featured in the Mossack Fonseca files were registered in the British Virgin Islands, a UK Overseas Territory.

In addition, almost two–thousand UK-based intermediaries were revealed in the leaks, making the UK second only to Hong Kong for the number of facilitators of tax evasion and avoidance it hosts.

This has a detrimental impact on the financial system here too, with vast resources, time and personnel devoted to tax avoidance and to tax evasion, not to beneficial financial activity such as productive lending that would benefit the economy. Instead, there is the huge inflation of house prices especially in London in part funded by the proceeds of tax evasion and money laundering. The ordinary people of this country have a common cause with the ordinary people of some of the most deprived countries in the world. To different degrees, we all have an interest in ending this corruption.

Currently the Criminal Finances Bill is going through Parliament. Labour has tabled amendments with the aim of expanding the bill to include Britain’s tax havens. We hold the position that they should publish the names of the individuals behind the shell companies registered there.

In its current state the Bill is lax on tackling this major issue and needs to be strengthened significantly. The quasi-autonomous status of Overseas Territories cannot be a barrier to our role in tackling international money-laundering. We must face up to our responsibilities and end the UK’s role in this global scandal.

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