The National Crime Agency (NCA) is pleased to have played a significant role in the UK being judged “world-leading” in the fight against illicit finance. The UK was awarded the ‘excellent’ rating by the Financial Action Task Force – the global standard-setter for anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing – in its Mutual Evaluation Report.
The Financial Action Task Force gave the highest rating for the UK’s understanding of the threat and recognises the high quality of the money laundering and asset denial investigations delivered by the NCA and its partners. It praises the innovative approaches the NCA takes to maximise its use of financial intelligence including intelligence sharing with the private sector through the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Task Force.
Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force
The agency notes the report’s findings in relation to the UK’s Financial Unit and will carefully consider the Financial Action Task Force’s recommendations. The NCA has already increased the establishment of the UK’s Financial Unit by 30% with further increases to take place in the following years.
The UK’s model for the use of financial intelligence, and in particular the large-scale availability and use of Suspicious Activity Reports, is different to the approach taken in many countries.
The comprehensive reporting sector generates nearly 500,000 Suspicious Activity Reports that are made accessible to a significant network of end users leading to extensive use of financial intelligence across law enforcement. The agency is pleased the report acknowledges this approach results in significant operational benefits, but disappointed that it understates the critical central role of the UK’s Financial Unit.
Pursuing the global fight
Donald Toon, director of the National Economic Crime Centre, said: “This is a good report for the NCA and the UK. It shows that law enforcement is aggressively pursuing the global fight against illicit finance and the NCA uses the fullest extent of powers available to it to pursue and deny the illicit assets of those that pose the highest harm to the UK. We’re not complacent and there’s always more we can do. In our new National Economic Crime Centre we, and our law enforcement partners, are working with the regulatory and private sectors to deliver a better and ‘whole’ system response to economic crime.”
Ian Mynot, head of the UK’s Financial Intelligence Unit, responded: “The UK’s Financial Unit undertakes important analytical work, for example in respect of identifying terrorist financing, and fast-time analysis where urgent law enforcement action is required. It does not seek to replicate analysis that can be done effectively by others. This is the right approach for the UK. The report recognises the extensive use of Suspicious Activity Reports across a wide range of law enforcement activities, and the results against money laundering and terrorist financing that Suspicious Activity Reports contribute towards.”
Reaction from RUSI
Tom Keatinge, director of RUSI’s Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, has responded to the news.
‘The UK has achieved top-of-the-class marks from the Financial Action Task Force. Government officials will be both surprised and relieved. However, the fact that the UK remains central to global money laundering schemes brings into question the relevance of this evaluation. Furthermore, we have cause to question some of the findings in the report, in particular the assessment in relation to the effective use of financial intelligence by UK law enforcement.”
Keatinge continued: “While the UK scores highly in most categories – and notably for its work to counter terrorist financing – worrying gaps exist, in particular in relation to the capacity and capabilities of the UK’s Financial Intelligence Unit and the ability of the authorities to conduct systematic and strategic assessments of the UK money laundering threat. With the evaluation now complete, there’s an open strategic question as to how the UK will tackle the weaknesses highlighted. The recently published Serious and Organised Crime Strategy is long on ambition, but much of its content is aspirational and will require a significant investment of funding and resources.”
In conclusion, Keatinge observed: “Despite the blizzard of initiatives (such as the Joint Money Laundering Task Force and the National Economic Crime Centre) launched over the past few years, Government cuts have taken their toll. For too long, the UK has been more effective at taking money off its law enforcement agencies than taking money off criminals. This situation has to change if the fight against economic crime is to advance meaningfully.”
Since its formation in 2014, RUSI’s Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies has closely tracked the activities of the Financial Action Task Force in general and the UK’s preparation for its evaluation in particular.
In 2015, in two separate reports the Centre reviewed the outlook for the UK’s Financial Action Task Force evaluation and the key issues that presented vulnerabilities as the Government prepared for the assessment of its Anti-Money Laundering and CTF frameworks. To read the RUSI commentary click here and for the Whitehall Report click here.