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Committee Corridor: The UK’s ‘dirty money’

23 June 2022

‘Sensible criminals’ choose to launder their money through London rather than get caught doing it in New York, the author and investigative journalist Oliver Bullough tells Tom Tugendhat MP in the latest Committee Corridor, the podcast from select committees at the House of Commons.

This episode looks at ‘dirty money’, the illicit wealth stolen by kleptocrats and criminals which is then laundered and invested in the UK. The podcast considers whether the UK Government has done enough to tackle money laundering, illicit finance and the organised crime which the money enables.

“The UK shouldn’t wait for other countries to do the right thing when it knows what the right thing is and should be doing it at home,” says Bullough. “There is no other country that has such a big enabling industry as the UK. That’s a sad fact but it’s a fact. And if we were to reduce the size of our enabling industry of the amount of money being laundered here, just by a bit, by five per cent, that would have a huge impact on the global criminal economy.”

At a rough estimate, the National Crime Agency says more than one hundred billion pounds of ‘dirty money’ flows through the UK every year. The issue has been the subject of work by the Foreign Affairs and Treasury select committees, represented in the podcast by Chris Bryant MP and Kevin Hollinrake MP.

The UK’s laws may be better than those in the US, including innovative powers such as Unexplained Wealth Orders, says Bullough, but they are not enforced because the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and the various territorial police services don’t have the required resources. “They just don’t have the tools they need to engage with this fight and until you prepare to engage with ‘dirty money’ as seriously and attacking it as kleptocrats will defend it, then you’re always going to lose.”

Sanctions ‘are good and important’ but should be ‘the cherry on the cake,’ he says. “They should be the Superdrive button on the dashboard of the spaceship. They can’t be the whole picture. They are reactive rather than proactive and so you’re essentially always waiting for a crime to be committed and money to be stolen and laundered before you take action against it.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee expects to publish a report on illicit finance in the coming days. “It is a fundamental issue of British national security and one that it’s absolutely our responsibility to speak about,” said Tom Tugendhat. “It’s not just foreigners and it’s not just about other people. It’s about undermining the UK and spreading a corrupt practice that sees people defrauded out of tens, twenties, thousands of pounds of their own money.”

Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke of the wider, direct impact of organised crime on local communities: “Every constituency in the land, whether it’s as poor and as deprived as mine is, as a former mining constituency or a wealthy one in London and the Southeast faces the same set of problems in relation to drugs, in relation to people trafficking. You know, we imagine that people trafficking is just about women for prostitution, but quite often, it’s also about men being trafficked to work in subhuman situations on car washes and things like that.”

The war in Ukraine has had a clear impact on political will to action change but there is work to do, said Keven Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton and a member of the Treasury Committee. Things changed when Russia invaded Ukraine and select committees and all-party parliamentary groups must continue to build a compelling case to reinforce action, he said. 

“We’ve got to build a coalition of people and we’ve got one - cross-party, we all want to work together on this, we worked very effectively on the sanctions legislation. And then we’ve got to be just persistent. We’ve got to keep hammering the door down and persuading the government they should go further on all this.”

The podcast and transcript will be available from 00.15 on Thursday, June 23, from the UK Parliament website and usual podcast providers.

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