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Making Avon and Somerset a harder place to launder illicit cash

This image shows a wad of £20 notes, next to some bags of white powder drugs

Our officers joined HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officials in visiting over 100 Money Service Businesses (MSBs) in Bristol and South Gloucestershire during November, as part of a drive to make the region a more difficult target for Organised Crime Groups (OCGs), intent on laundering and using criminal cash, to operate in.

Money laundering is a crime which costs society dearly, with laundered money used in carrying out other criminal activity, such as selling illegal drugs, modern slavery, and human trafficking.

It is estimated that £12 billion of cash is laundered in the UK every year.

Money Service Businesses provide money transfer, cheque cashing and currency exchange services. Under the Money Laundering Regulations, over 31,000 MSBs are registered and supervised by HMRC in the UK to prevent money laundering.  They work under strict guidelines and must comply with rules and requirements, such as ensuring staff are properly trained so don’t unwittingly become involved in criminal activity and ensuring the money they deal with hasn’t resulted from criminal activity.

Failure to do so can lead to serious consequences including fines, being prevented from running a business and criminal convictions.

Joint HMRC and police visits were made to 104 MSBs during the operation on 23rd November, with beneficial owners, officers and managers reminded of their anti-money laundering and regulatory responsibilities. Their internal set up and processes were checked, and they were given support and education on how to comply with the legislation that governs them.

Six MSBs received further checks by HMRC officers, testing their compliance against the Money Laundering Regulations.  Enquiries are still ongoing.

Detective Sergeant Lee Stefano from our Financial Investigations Unit said: “This has been an important operation, aimed at disrupting the ability of OCGs to generate and use criminal proceeds through money laundering. Laundered cash is often the proceeds of drug networks and County Lines misery that exploit the vulnerable and bring violence and harm into our communities.

“MSB’s have responsibilities to prevent this happening and there is no excuse for unwittingly allowing money laundering to happen, ‘turning a blind eye’ or corruptly allowing money laundering through the business.

“We will not accept our towns and cities being negatively impacted by criminal proceeds and this operation supports a range of work being carried out by our officers to make Avon and Somerset a hostile environment for criminals to operate in.”

Mobin Khaled, HMRC’s Head of Economic Crime Supervision Compliance South said: “Money laundering is not a victimless crime. Our Regulations are there to protect businesses from those criminals who would prey on their services to wash their dirty money.

“We will continue to collaborate with law enforcement to ensure a level playing field for businesses who play by the rules and take action against the minority of businesses who fail to fulfil their legal responsibilities under the Money Laundering Regulations.

“Serious and organised crime costs the UK billions of pounds every year and our anti-money laundering supervision is a vital tool in combatting that.”

Further information and guidance for Money Service Businesses can be found on GOV.UK. Businesses can also register for anti money laundering supervision online.