Every year, the UK’s National Crime Agency puts out a “National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime”, which I use as a very handy criminal barometer to measure what professional criminals are spending their time on. The 2015 edition came out on 23 June, and of course I opened it immediately and started scanning for the words “money laundering”. And to all those people who, years ago, counselled me to expand my interests “because money laundering will go out of favour”, I think we can say a big yah boo sucks. Turns out that the NCA is of the view that “money laundering is now a high-priority risk in its own right [and] high-end money laundering, in particular, is a major risk”. It’s a Pyrrhic victory for my career, of course, as I’d much prefer to see money laundering eliminated and then retire to write novels, but as long as I’m (we’re) needed, I shall fly the AML flag.
The NCA assessment this time round has more nifty graphics than I’ve seen before. One shows the major sources of the criminal money being laundered in the UK, which include cybercrime, the trade in firearms, drug trafficking (with the UK market in cocaine being the biggest in Europe – and no, it’s not like one of those picturesque flower markets you see in Continental towns on Sunday mornings), people trafficking (with 10,000 victims in the UK) and economic crime (such as tax evasion of various stripes).
Delving into the details, the assessment shies away from putting a definite figure on any estimate of the scale of money laundering in the UK, preferring to say “hundreds of billions of US dollars”. Particular concern is expressed about “high-end money laundering”, which is “specialist, usually involves transactions of substantial value, and involves abuse of the financial sector and professional enablers”. We’ve worried about professional enablers before, and the NCA is clear about who it means: “The laundering of criminal proceeds is reliant on access to the professional skills of, among others, lawyers, accountants, investment bankers and company formation agents… We believe the professions posing the greatest risk are within the financial and legal sectors, for example accountants and solicitors.” Particularly tasty for the money launderer is the solicitor’s client account: “Criminally complicit solicitors can effectively act as private banks to individual clients. Client accounts offer criminals relative anonymity, the ability to obscure the origins and beneficiaries of criminal proceeds, and the perceived protection of legal privilege.” Being the pernickety wordsmith that I am, my eye is drawn to that word “perceived”… Are changes afoot, or prosecutions planned? At the very least, cards have been marked.