The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has received 153 reports concerning an allegation of money laundering since 2014, but prosecuted just four cases.
The SFO figures, which were a response to a freedom of information request by law firm Greenberg Traurig, show the SFO received 41 reports containing money laundering allegations in 2018 but did not prosecute any cases during that year.
In 2015 and 2016 it received a combined 87 reports and did not prosecute any cases.
It prosecuted two cases in 2014 when it received six reports and two cases in 2017 when it received 19 reports.
Other figures provided by the SFO show searches conducted by its proceeds of crime division have become unused.
In 2013-14, 27 searches were carried out, but in the following five years only 12 in total have been carried out with none in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Barry Vitou, co-chair of white collar defence and special investigations at Greenberg Traurig, said: “The SFO has a dedicated proceeds of crime division and the low prosecution figures over many years will come as a surprise to many.
“The numbers are stark when contrasted with widely publicised concerns that the UK’s financial system and real estate market have been used to launder the criminal proceeds from around the world.”
According to the National Crime Agency money laundering costs the UK more than £100bn a year.
Vitou added: “The SFO is likely to be increasingly under the spotlight when it comes to money laundering enforcement. Unexplained Wealth Orders and Account Forfeiture Orders to combat money laundering have been introduced and the new director has a strong background in anti-money laundering. It is expected that the SFO will focus more on money laundering going forward.”
A spokesperson for the SFO said: “The figures are not indicative of any change in activity.
“The SFO receives a large number of referrals each year, however, the vast majority of these do not fit the agency’s specialist remit to investigate.
“Searches are conducted when investigations require them. It is entirely normal for the volume of them to fluctuate over time, particularly as the SFO’s case load is composed of a small number of large cases.”