UK steps up anti-money laundering crackdown with new watchdog

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The UK government is setting up a new anti-money laundering watchdog in an effort to crack down on ill-gotten gains and dirty money.

The new Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision, or OPBAS, will sit within the existing Financial Conduct Authority, the UK Treasury announced on Wednesday. The new office aims to counter often conflicting guidance currently put out by 25 different organisations that supervise different sectors, such as the law and accountancy.

Treasury said that the concern is that these loopholes can create inconsistencies that are then exploited by criminals.

The office “will bring the UK’s anti-money laundering regime into line with the latest international standards, and ensure consistently high standards of supervision across all sectors, sending a strong message that money laundering and terrorist financing should not and will not be tolerated,” said Simon Kirby, the economic secretary to the Treasury.

OPBAS, which will be operational by the beginning of next year, will be funded through a fee paid for by the professional bodies’ supervisors.

Cracking down on financial crime and money-laundering was already a priority for the FCA, which levied a record fine for money-laundering earlier this year when Deutsche Bank paid it £163m as part of a $630m settlement with UK and US authorities over trades allegedly used to launder as much as $10bn out of Russia.

The Treasury’s move to set up OPBAS comes amid wider scrutiny of the UK’s ability to fight economic crime. The Cabinet Office is undertaking an audit of all the agencies that counter financial crime, including the FCA, the Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue & Customs and the National Crime Agency, as well as several police forces.

The review, which is scrutinising performance, funding and staffing among other themes, will consider all options including merging or scrapping agencies, the Financial Times previously reported. This will be of particular concern to the SFO, which was put under review by Theresa May, the prime minister, a handful of times during her tenure as home secretary.

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