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Money Laundering and Criminal Finance

Volume 641: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2018

14. What recent estimate the Government have made of the cost to the economy of money laundering and criminal finance in the UK. (905482)

The social and economic costs of organised crime, of which money laundering is a key facilitator, total tens of billions of pounds a year. The Government are committed to tackling illicit finance in the UK and have implemented recent measures including the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and the updated money laundering regulations, both of which were brought into law in the past year.

The cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee said only yesterday that the Government should show stronger political leadership in tackling the importing of dirty money into the United Kingdom. Is it not time that the Government supported the Labour Front Bench’s proposals for an overseas register of interests?

I acknowledge the report of the Select Committee. This Government stand by the rule of law. We do not do random confiscations but, alongside the work being undertaken, work is under way across Whitehall to examine what further steps are necessary. I am eager that we go as far as we can, and we must do so in ways that are consistent with our values.

I associate myself with the Chancellor’s eloquent words on the Manchester tragedy. I also commend the emergency services that operated on that day.

“The Government cannot afford to turn a blind eye as kleptocrats and human rights abusers use the City of London to launder their ill-gotten funds”.

Not my words but the words of yesterday’s Foreign Affairs Committee report. For eight years this Government have turned a blind eye to the flow of dirty money through the City. Not only have they delayed until 2021 the introduction of a full public register of overseas companies that own UK property but they have refused to introduce the tougher scrutiny and regulation of City flotations that we have demanded, and they have failed to broaden the definition of “politically exposed persons” to include more individuals linked to crime or criminal regimes.

Will the Government do as the Foreign Affairs Committee has demanded and start taking money laundering and tax avoidance seriously by bringing forward the date for the register of overseas companies that own property in the UK?

We will continue to take these matters very seriously. We will freeze Russian state assets where we have evidence that they will be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals and residents. As the Prime Minister made very clear in her statement to the House, the National Crime Agency will bring all UK capabilities to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites. As somebody who has experienced that directly in my constituency in recent months, I stand by the Prime Minister’s statement. There is no place for these people and their money in our country.

That is just not good enough. We were promised a register in 2015, and we are still having to wait another three years. The Government are letting the crooks, the tax avoiders and the money launderers off the hook again. They have failed to introduce and enforce stricter due diligence for companies as registered companies, they have failed to take on the service providers that set up these laundering scheme, and they have refused to legislate to create a new offence of failing to prevent money laundering. Those are all amendments that the Opposition tabled to the recent Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. The people of this country are entitled to ask why this Government are soft on tax evaders and money launderers.

There is another issue that has to be addressed today, as highlighted by the allegations against Lycamobile. Will the Government bring forward legislation requiring any political party found to have accepted donations from money launderers and tax evaders to forfeit or return that money?

Obviously, it is impossible for a Minister to comment on live cases, but we will continue to use powers to disrupt and pursue money launderers and terrorists. We will use the anti-corruption strategy, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime is committed to using the National Economic Crime Centre to pursue those who need pursuing, but we will do so within the rule of law, consistent with the values of this country.