The UK is at the heart of global money laundering and corruption, because the system designed to prevent abuse is failing, a damning report published today has claimed.
Anti-corruption organisation Transparency International UK has found more than 760 companies registered in the UK were directly involved in laundering stolen money from at least 13 countries, as part of analysis of 52 cases of global corruption worth £80bn.
This new research, Hiding in Plain Sight, claims companies are used as layers to hide money that would otherwise appear suspicious, and "have the added advantage of providing a respectability uniquely associated with being registered in the UK".
The group argues it is "no accident" that the UK is used, noting it is home to a "network" of Trust and Companies Service Providers (TCSPs), which register firms to UK addresses, often nothing more than mailboxes.
The report claims that the UK's defence against illegal activity is "woefully inadequate": just six staff in Companies House are charged with policing four million companies. Meanwhile, TCSPs filed just 77 of 400,000 suspicious activity reports, designed to flag possible money laundering, last year.
Duncan Hames, director of Policy Transparency International UK, said: “The UK is home to industrious company factories from which unscrupulous individuals provide the corrupt with the means to hide their ill-gotten gains. The UK should recognise it has its own Applebys and Mossack Fonsecas here on our doorstep.”
“Since the Panama Papers the UK has made progress in targeting corrupt money but in a complicated and global system it’s often the case that as one area of weakness is addressed, more are discovered by those intent on channelling dirty money.
"Approaching Brexit it’s essential that the UK sends a clear signal that it won’t be a laundromat for corrupt individuals from around the world. It could start by ensuring it properly resources those who are meant to be our first line of defence, such as Companies House.”
Transparency International is calling on the government to overhaul the country's supervisory system to combat money laundering and said it should apply a "failure to prevent" approach, which would put the onus back onto TCSPs to identify wrongdoing. In addition, Companies House should be given "sufficient resources to identify suspicious activity".
It also wants government to stop non-UK registered agents from setting up companies, and to use financial incentives to encourage UK firms to hold a UK bank account and discourage the use of offshore bank accounts.