Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 6th March 2018.
(1) A relevant body (B) is guilty of an offence if a person commits a money laundering facilitation offence when acting in the capacity of a person associated with B.
(2) For the purposes of this section “money laundering facilitation offence” means—
(a) concealing, disguising, converting, transferring or removing criminal property under section 327 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (concealing etc);
(b) entering into an arrangement which the person knows, or suspects, facilitates (by whatever means) the acquisition, retention, use, or control of criminal property under section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (arrangements); or
(c) the acquisition, use or possession of criminal property, under section 329 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (acquisition, use and possession).
(3) It is a defence for B to prove that, when the money laundering facilitation offence was committed, B had in place adequate procedures designed to prevent persons acting in the capacity of a person associated with B from committing such an offence.
(4) A relevant body guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to a fine;
(b) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to a fine; or
(c) on summary conviction in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.
(5) It is immaterial for the purposes of this section whether—
(a) any relevant conduct of a relevant body, or
(b) any conduct which constitutes part of a relevant criminal offence,
takes place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.
(6) In this section, “relevant body” and “acting in the capacity of a person associated with B” have the same meaning as in section 44 of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 (meaning of relevant body and acting in the capacity of an associated person).—
This new clause would make it an offence if a relevant body failed to put in place adequate procedures to prevent a person associated with it from carrying out a money laundering facilitation offence. A money laundering facilitation offence would include concealing, disguising, converting, transferring or removing criminal property under section 327 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 15—Disqualification—
In the event that adequate procedures under subsection (3) of section [Failure to prevent money laundering] are found not to be in place, the Secretary of State must refer to the court a disqualification order under section 8 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 (disqualification of director on finding of unfitness).”.
This new clause would require the Minister to ask the courts to investigate whether directors of a company are fit and proper, if it was found that proper procedures against money laundering were not in place.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl, and in rather warmer circumstances than the last time. New clause 9 seeks to create an offence if a relevant body failed to put in place adequate procedures to prevent a person associated with it from carrying out a money laundering facilitation offence. New clause 15 creates a process for disqualification for those at the top level who have failed to prevent money laundering.
I will deal with each new clause in turn and then speak briefly about the overall regulatory context, which creates a necessity for these new approaches. First, on new clause 9 and the failure to prevent the facilitation of money laundering, there are many problems with the existing system. The FCA has found weaknesses in governance and long-standing and significant under-investment in resourcing for control systems, even in the sector that is actually regulated for money laundering. I will talk about some of the problems there later on.
Many of those who investigate in this area find that rules are intermittently enforced, penalties are low and senior executives face few personal, financial or reputational consequences. It is constructive to compare some of the penalties that have been levied in the UK with those levied in the US. As I understand, the largest fine levied in the UK for anti-money laundering or sanctions offences—the Minister may contradict me if I am wrong—was levied against Coutts & Co for £8.75 million. That is six hundred times less than the penalty that was levied by the United States on BNP Paribas for sanctions-related offences.
I am very happy to confirm that in fact Deutsche Bank was fined £163 million in January 2017, and Barclays had a fine of £72 million in November 2015. I do not think that comparison is correct.
It would be helpful to know under which pieces of legislation those fines were levied, because I am uncertain whether they were directly under money laundering legislation. I will come back to that, particularly in relation to some of the outcomes of some parliamentary questions that I have asked to try to dig into this and find out what prosecutions have been enabled by existing legislation.
I am grateful for the information that the Economic Secretary has provided; however, there is still a lot of concern about banks’ and others’ ability to root out money laundering and the facilitating of money laundering. The FCA found—admittedly, in 2014—that there was
“significant and widespread weaknesses in most banks’ anti-money laundering systems and controls”.
That is revealed in the case of HSBC. Many members of the Committee will know that it was involved in a money laundering scandal that led to the US fining it £1.2 billion. There was a large investigation into that matter in the United States Senate, where it was said that our UK-based bank had been a conduit for
“drug kingpins and rogue nations”,
including Mexican drug cartels and North Korea. In fact, that case has been referred to already in this Committee.
Particularly worryingly, a congressional report found that George Osborne and the Financial Services Authority—now the FCA—corresponded on numerous occasions with their US counterparts about the case; in fact, they urged a less aggressive judicial approach on the US side. Apparently, the congressional report said that the UK interventions played a significant role in ultimately persuading the US Department of Justice not to prosecute HSBC. I find it quite concerning that the UK actually argued against measures being taken by other countries to try to deal with this problem.
We were hoping to have some change; the Serious Fraud Office has called for the broadening of existing economic offences to cover a kind of umbrella approach, also to cover failure to prevent. It thinks that that would be helpful to hold large companies to account criminally across the board. At the moment, we have the ability to prosecute the failure to prevent bribery and corruption, but those activities are rarely committed in isolation from instances of money laundering by corporate entities. Therefore, it seems to make sense to try to extend corporate liability to money laundering. That would push in the same direction as existing pieces of legislation. Of course, the Bribery Act 2010 created a new offence of corporate failure to prevent. I believe that Act was put in place because of the same kind of repeated criticism of the UK regime that we have seen in relation to money laundering. We also now have the offence of failure to prevent criminal tax evasion in the Criminal Finances Act 2017. Surely there is now a strong case for an explicit reference to failure to prevent money laundering.
Many of us thought that we were not going to have to push for a separate offence of money laundering because we were to have an umbrella approach. In May 2016, the Government committed to consult on a broad offence of failure to prevent economic crime, which would cover fraud, false accounting and money laundering. In January 2017, the Government downgraded that commitment and instead published a call for evidence on whether there was a case for economic crime corporate liability law reform.
As I understand it, the call for evidence closed in March 2017. I have not yet seen the results of that call for evidence. It would be helpful for the Minister to let us know the outcome of that call for evidence, the main findings and how the Government have decided to act on them. Will they introduce the umbrella offence or create a discrete offence, as we are asking for? Because we think we need action now. That is new clause 19.
I beg your pardon. I am getting over-excited and trying to hurtle towards the end of the programme. I am sorry, Dame Cheryl.
No; we are very keen to have a thorough discussion on every one of our new clauses.
New clause 15 focuses on disqualification. The purpose is to ensure that directors specifically take responsibility for their organisation’s mistakes, and to ensure that the Secretary of State may hold them to account for a failure to prevent money laundering, in the instance where procedures have not been put correctly in place.
Many colleagues might have served as directors and will know the rules on being a director—that directors can already be disqualified if they display unfit conduct. Unfit conduct is defined as including allowing a company to continue trading when it cannot pay its debts, not keeping proper company accounts and so on.
With the new clause, we wish to extend that to include a commitment for every director to ensure that they are not ignoring money laundering concerns. We want to mirror what happens under competition law in Britain, where a director’s role is looked at in the event of a breach of the law. That is necessary because of the situation we find ourselves in today.
I am sure many colleagues will have talked to professionals on the frontline of anti-money laundering. I have talked to quite a lot of people who work in banks and other organisations who have anti-money laundering responsibilities. I am sure there are people who work in accounting and other walks of life for whom this is a concern. Very often the clear message I get, as I am sure colleagues do, is that those individuals are working very hard to prevent money laundering but they are not supported by the leadership team within their firm. Global Witness has stated that,
“responsibility for compliance with anti-money laundering and other regulations is usually allocated to compliance teams, rather than to senior executives, who actually wield power within banks over what customers they take. This is a serious problem because it gives compliance staff none of the authority but all of the responsibility, breaking the important link between decision making and accountability.”
That is certainly what I find when I talk to individuals who are in that responsible position. They find they are often not supported by senior managements. That has also been discovered in some of the big corporate scandals—I referred to the HSBC case a moment ago. In his written evidence to the UK Parliament, David Bagley, who led on compliance at HSBC during the period of the failings we were just talking about, stated:
“as the Head of Group Compliance, my mandate was … limited to advising, recommending and reporting. My job was not—and I did not have the authority, resources, support or infrastructure—to ensure that all of these global affiliates followed the Group’s compliance standards”.
This is an enormous concern, and it is not being dealt with in the new regulatory developments we have seen recently. I may anticipate some of the comments the Minister is about to make, but we have a very complex regulatory system. If we try to get at this matter through professional regulation, rather than by having the criminal sanction obligation we are talking about, we face a very complex landscape. There are 25 anti-money laundering supervisors in the UK. They include the FCA, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Gambling Commission. However, we then have 22 accountancy and legal professional bodies involved in AML supervision.
I am well aware, and I am sure the Minister will tell us, that the Government are attempting a more co-ordinated approach with the new Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision. It would be helpful if he could elucidate whether this is an office, an organisation or a team, because we have it described in different ways in responses to different parliamentary questions. This body—OPBAS—also does not include HMRC as a member. I have heard a number of professionals saying that they are still confused about where the responsibility lies. If this is an attempt to deal with this problem by a professional route, we need to have the criminal sanction, ultimately, at the level of firms’ leadership. Proper procedures have to be in place, and responsibility and authority must come from the top.
We have been shown time and time again a whole range of areas of corporate failure, whether that is health and safety, sexual harassment or other areas where there have been problems in a minority of corporations. We have found out frequently that when the incentives and the authority lines point in a direction that contradicts those other values, we can have all the compliance and safeguarding officers in the world, but we will not get the change we need in culture and action unless responsibility and authority are at the top. That is why we are pushing new clauses 15 and 9.
I do not want to add a huge amount, but I very much welcome the new clause. As the hon. Member for Oxford East said, there is a big issue of incentive and authority for organisations, particularly for those that facilitate the formation and operation of Scottish limited partnerships in the private fund sector.
There has to be an effort to ensure that compliance with the rules is extended as far as possible. For example, a legal firm may be asked to register an SLP to get it up and going, and operating, but if no buck stops with it, there is no punishment for not ensuring that the SLPs are operating as we would want them to. For example, if a firm asks its client to register a person of significant control, and the client does not do so, where is the incentive for that firm to remove that client altogether? The firm has to decide for itself whether the cost of reputational damage from being named in the press is enough. That is the balance that it has at the moment. It is not obliged not to have that SLP within its client base. There is no comeback and no consequence.
There needs to be some means by which the firm is forced to do something to put that right. If the SLPs under its umbrella do not register a person of significant control, and continue not to register them, there is no fine to that legal firm, as I understand it. The SLP may face a fine—I am trying to get to the bottom of how many fines have been issued to those who have not registered a person of significant control—but there is no comeback to the legal firm, other than potential reputational damage.
The Government need to think about where the buck really stops in these arrangements , and this type of new clause would put some emphasis on the firm to do something about failing to prevent money laundering, rather than allowing things to continue as they are. As I understand it, there is no comeback at the moment to the legal firm that is protecting the SLPs underneath its umbrella.
I undertake to address the points raised by the hon. Member for Oxford East. I will come to the point about the directors’ responsibility in my scripted remarks and also to the issue of what provision the fines were imposed under.
On the specific question the hon. Lady asked, the Ministry of Justice’s call for evidence considered a wide range of reforms to the law relating to corporate liability for economic crime. That is against a backdrop of already significant reform in this area in recent years, including the Bribery Act 2010, the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements, which the Government would contend have strengthened the UK’s defences against corporate criminality. The Ministry of Justice is carefully considering the responses received to the call for evidence and is analysing the impacts of the Government’s range of recent reforms in this area. It will respond to its call for evidence in due course. I do not have a specific timetable, but that is the best information I can give the hon. Lady.
New clauses 9 and 15 seek to create a corporate criminal offence of failure to prevent money laundering, with an obligation on the Secretary of State to submit a disqualification order to the court against directors of a company found guilty of such an offence without having adequate anti-money laundering procedures in place. New clause 9 provides that a company or partnership is guilty of a criminal offence where the company’s employee, agent or other service provider commits one of the substantive money laundering offences in part 7 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The relevant company would have a defence if it could prove that it had adequate procedures in place to prevent its employees or agents from committing such an offence.
The offence is not necessary in view of the extensive reforms to the UK’s anti-money laundering regime that the Government have put in place. The proposed offence is substantively applied to firms that are regulated for anti-money laundering purposes by part 2 of the Money Laundering Regulations 2017. Those require that regulated firms have policies, controls and procedures to mitigate and manage risks of money laundering and terrorist financing. The Government have legislated to require that these policies, controls and procedures are proportionate with regard to the size and nature of the firm’s business and proved by the firm’s senior management. Failure to comply with these requirements is a criminal offence in itself.
The Financial Conduct Authority and other supervisors are additionally able to take action against firms if their measures to counter money laundering are deficient. As was touched on in our exchange earlier, recent regulatory penalties related to firms’ anti-money laundering weaknesses include fines of £163 million for Deutsche Bank in January 2017 and £72 million for Barclays Bank in November 2015. They were a consequence of failures in anti-money laundering measures under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
The new clause also seeks to address challenges that have arisen in apportioning responsibility for corporate failings. Within the financial services sector, that has been addressed through the senior managers regime, which was introduced after the financial crisis. Banks are now required to ensure that a named senior manager has unequivocal responsibility for overseeing the firm’s efforts to counter financial crime. That ensures that firms and individuals can be held to account for failing to put proper systems in place to prevent financial crime. If a relevant firm breaches its anti-money laundering obligations, the FCA can take action against a senior manager if it can prove that they did not take such steps as a person in their position can reasonably have been expected to take to avoid the breach occurring. The enforcement action includes fines and disbarment from undertaking regulated activities. The Government have legislated to extend the senior managers regime to apply across all financial services firms. That will be implemented in due course, and will further the Government’s reform programme. All those requirements are additional to the substantive money laundering offences in the Proceeds of Crime Act, such as entering into arrangements that facilitate the use of criminal property, which apply to any individual or company.
As hon. Members know, the Government have previously introduced two similar offences: the failure to prevent bribery, in 2010, and the failure to prevent the facilitation of UK and foreign tax evasion, in 2017. They are structured in a similar way to the proposed new clause, but they were introduced following clear evidence of gaps in the relevant legal frameworks that were limiting the bringing of effective and dissuasive enforcement proceedings. It is right that the offences that we have already established apply to legal entities, regardless of whether they operate in the regulated sector.
The situation in relation to money laundering is very different. The international standard is set by the Financial Action Task Force, which has been referred to numerous times in the Committee’s discussions. The UK’s money laundering regulations apply to banks, financial institutions, certain professional services firms and other types of entity, and act as gatekeepers to the financial system. As I have said, such firms are already required to have policies and procedures in place to prevent their services from being misused for money laundering.
Subsection (6) of new clause 9 would require all companies, regardless of whether they are incorporated, to have procedures in place to prevent persons connected to them from laundering money. The Government do not believe that that would be appropriate. It would risk making non-regulated firms liable for the actions of their regulated professional advisers. Instead, responsibility for anti-money laundering compliance should rest in the regulated sector, as is currently the case. The new clause would not go beyond the existing regulatory framework in that area, and it would blur where responsibility should lie for anti-money laundering compliance. Therefore, I respectfully ask the hon. Member for Oxford East to withdraw the new clause.
I am grateful to the Economic Secretary for those helpful explanations and clarifications. Despite his useful response, however, there are a number of areas where I am unclear. First, I appreciate that he has probably anticipated this question, but the Committee may ask why it has taken Government a whole year to assess the responses from their consultation on economic crime. Government frequently work at a far faster pace than that. He said that we will have the analysis of those consultation responses in due course. It would be helpful to know more about why it is taking so long for Government to analyse them.
Secondly, the Economic Secretary spoke about the requirement for all regulated firms to ensure that their policies, controls and procedures are appropriate to prevent money laundering, but there is a question about who assesses that and whose responsibility that is. That takes us back to the issue about there being myriad professional bodies, which all operate subtly different approaches towards regulation in this area. As I said, I appreciate that OPBAS has been created to try to draw them together, but I do not think we heard exactly what the status of that office is—I was trying to concentrate on what the Economic Secretary was saying. I have seen different descriptions of it as a team, an office and an organisation. It would be helpful to have a clearer indication, particularly because those professional bodies are, as I understand it, required to contribute financially to OPBAS, so a number of them are keen to understand what is happening with it. Furthermore, HMRC is not a member of it, as I said before, so the concern about a lack of regulatory co-ordination persists.
Finally, the Economic Secretary referred approvingly to the senior managers regime that has been brought in since the financial crisis, which looks like a positive step initially—of course, the HSBC problems occurred following that. In any case, as I understand it, the actual operation of this new regime and its extension are quite different from, for example, what was recommended by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Under this approach, the burden to show that senior managers failed to take appropriate steps will be on the regulator, rather than the senior managers themselves.
That is different from the approach taken in many other areas, including road traffic, health and safety at work, the Bribery Act 2010—which the Minister referred to—terrorist legislation, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and so on. It would be helpful to understand why, with the extension of this regime, the burden of proof has essentially now been placed on the shoulders of the regulator, rather than the shoulders of the managers.