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Money Laundering: British Banks

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 21st March 2017.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:34 pm, 21st March 2017

I hope that the Minister recognises the immense gravity of the situation that we are facing, because I believe that his statement reflects complacency on the part of the Government. Let me go through the allegations, which are of the deepest concern. First, it is alleged that, via an operation referred to as the “global laundromat”, banks based in Britain have been used to launder immense sums of money obtained from criminal activity in Russia linked to the FSB spy agency there. This appears to point to an overwhelming failure of basic management on the part of the banks. One of those banks, HSBC, is an institution that has previously faced money laundering charges in the US and across the globe. The direct intervention of this Government helped to block a 2012 US investigation on the purported grounds of its potential risk to financial stability. Money laundering through London and elsewhere threatens the stability of our financial sector and our economy.

In the case of another bank, RBS, the Government directly own a 72% stake. A third bank, Barclays, has been under investigation for its role in LIBOR rigging. Will the Minister give us specific details of what steps are being taken to address this scandal? Can we have an assurance that there is the potential to open criminal proceedings to break up what is effectively a criminal network? Will the Government also undertake that they will not—as they have in the past with HSBC—attempt to intervene in criminal or other investigations taking place elsewhere in the world? The major risk to financial stability is not from investigations intended to clear out criminal activity from our banking system; it is from inactivity on the part of the Government and others, and from failing to act to ensure that our major banks are clean and fit for purpose.

Secondly, all those banks claim to have strict internal policies to deal with money laundering. The Financial Conduct Authority places great stress on the need for banks to self-police and create appropriate internal procedures to prevent money laundering. It is obvious from today’s revelations, however, that the current arrangements are not working to prevent widespread, organised and sophisticated criminal activity. Will the Government tell the House what steps they will be taking to address this matter with the FCA? Will the Government today commit to opening an inquiry with a view to reporting rapidly on measures to be taken that will strengthen the regulations, including introducing tighter controls on and closer monitoring of the banks themselves?

Finally, when the Government own major stakes in the banks involved—RBS in particular, since they are no longer able to sell off that stake—there is an immediate need for them to reassure taxpayers that publicly owned banks are not indirectly involved in criminal activity. What steps will the Government, as a major shareholder in RBS, take to investigate the allegations against it and to reassure taxpayers? Our banks have been found wanting yet again. Urgent action is needed from the Government to protect the standing of our finance sector and to protect our economy. Complacency and inaction are not good enough.