“(1) For the purposes of preventing money laundering, a trust or company service provider that does not carry on business in the UK may not incorporate UK companies without oversight from an anti-money laundering supervisor.
(2) In this section—
‘anti-money laundering supervisor’ has the same meaning as ‘supervisory authority’ in Schedule 2;
‘trust or company service provider’ has the same meaning as in regulation 3 of the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (S.I. 692/2017);
‘carry on business in the UK’ has the same meaning as in regulation 9 of the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 (S.I. 692/2017).” —(Anneliese Dodds.)
This new clause would ensure that Trust or company service providers that do not conduct business in the UK may not incorporate UK companies without oversight from a UK supervisor.
We tabled the new clause because ineffective anti-money laundering supervision has a clear and obvious link with inadequate compliance and with low and poor-quality reporting of suspicious activity to the National Crime Agency. Research by a number of non-governmental organisations, particularly Transparency International, has indicated serious failings in the current framework for supervising money laundering compliance in the UK, especially with respect to trust and company service providers.
Under the Money Laundering Regulations 2017, only TCSPs carrying on business in the UK—that is their formulation in the legislation—have to register with an anti-money laundering supervisor and comply with MLR 2017. That means of course that TCSPs with no UK presence can incorporate UK companies without any oversight from an AML supervisor. They do not have to comply with UK standards for money laundering checks. We have seen a number of clear examples—I will talk about some in a moment—where that has allowed non-UK TCSPs to incorporate UK companies that have subsequently been used in large-scale money laundering schemes. I think many of the concerns raised a moment ago around undercutting existing legislation and the lack of a fair playing field for UK TCSPs come up again in this regard.
In 2012 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how a number of UK individuals offering company services had moved their base of operations outside our country but continued to form, and act as nominee directors for, UK companies. There are two examples that are particularly important. The first is Jesse Grant Hester, who was originally from the UK and who moved to Cyprus to form Atlas Corporate Services Ltd before moving to Dubai and, finally, Mauritius—he is somebody who has been lucky enough to travel much in life. Those jurisdictions have all been identified as presenting high money laundering risks. Mauritius in particular is very concerning: it scored 5.92 out of 10 on the Basel Institute on Governance money laundering risk index. Ten is the highest level of money laundering risk and zero is the least, so it is well up there. Jesse Grant Hester appeared on numerous occasions as a nominee director for companies embroiled in corruption scandals. In the Moldovan bank theft that we talked about earlier, he signed fake promissory notes using an alias on behalf of a UK firm, Goldbridge Trading Ltd, allowing £444 million to be stolen. Atlas Corporate Services is associated with eight people who, between them, have held directorships of 3,613 UK companies. Again, that is a staggering number of companies to be held by just eight people. As we discussed, that scandal caused enormous problems for the country of Moldova.
Another UK resident who became internationally renowned, although not in a positive way, for his company formation activities is Ian Taylor. That is not the famous social policy academic, who I had the pleasure of working with, but another Ian Taylor. He also moved around a lot: he moved to Vanuatu.
Oh, there was a Tory MP as well. Goodness—the name is frequently used. He moved to Vanuatu after he was banned from being a corporate director, first in New Zealand in 2011 and then in the UK in 2015, as a result of his companies’ involvement in numerous scandals, including a land banking scam in Somerset. Vanuatu’s self-assessment on money laundering risk found that its TCSP sector was among the most vulnerable to such activity. In 2015 the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering found serious deficiencies in Vanuatu’s AML system. Despite being banned in the UK, Taylor seems to have retained a UK presence. Various investigations have identified the circle of nominee directors that he works with. One of them is a Vanuatu resident who is a director of more than 61 companies. He took over from Taylor as a director of 20 of them on the same date.
Those examples show that physically moving out of the UK does not result in a lack of activity in the UK. Networks of associates make it difficult to stop the formation of UK companies by individuals who have already been disqualified here. Such individuals, who have been shown to have engaged in money laundering activities or have otherwise been disqualified or viewed as not competent in this arena, can function in other countries and create companies. The checking that should go on does not happen, and there is inadequate anti-money laundering supervision. We do not have a means of dealing with that, because we do not have a regulatory system for TCSPs that are not based in countries with appropriate anti-money laundering provisions. That is not currently illegal, which is why we want to change the legal situation.
The deputy director of the National Crime Agency’s economic crime command says that he is investigating several agents involved in such activity. He spells out the legal situation in the UK but, of course, that situation does not apply to these individuals. It would be helpful for us to have an indication from the Minister—even if he is not prepared to support our new clause—of his understanding of the current situation when it comes to TCSPs registered in different jurisdictions. Have the Treasury, the FCO and others assessed the likelihood of having proper anti-money laundering provisions in place? If not, will they undertake to do so? As I have said, our new clause is designed to close what appears to be a huge loophole.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for setting out her new clause, which would prohibit TCSPs that do not conduct business in the UK from incorporating UK companies, unless they are overseen by a UK anti-money laundering supervisor. As hon. Members will know, the Money Laundering Regulations 2017 specifically provide for TCSPs conducting business in the UK to be subject to a fitness and propriety test and to register with either Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or the Financial Conduct Authority. In borderline cases where it is unclear whether a TCSP is conducting business in the UK—in which case it would be supervised by a UK anti-money laundering supervisor—HMRC would consider on a case-by-case basis whether registration for supervision is necessary. This acts as an anti-evasion mechanism preventing TCSPs from artificially claiming that they are outside the scope of the UK’s anti-money laundering regime.
The hon. Member for Oxford East asked earlier where this was based. The Government recently established the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision, known as OPBAS, within the Financial Conduct Authority. It works to secure consistently high standards of AML supervision of professional bodies, including TCSPs. These reforms follow the identification of risks associated with TCSPs in the Government’s 2016 action plan for anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing. This found that service sectors such as TCSPs were a significant money-laundering threat.
Although it is for anti-money laundering supervisors to determine their areas of focus, they are required to have regard for the UK’s national risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing when assessing risks in their own sector. The risk assessment that the Government published in October last year concludes:
“The highest risk TCSPs are assessed to be UK TCSPs which offer a wide range of services (including nominee directors, registered office services, and banking facilities)”.
Additionally, individual anti-money laundering supervisors are under a duty to identify and assess the international and domestic risks of money laundering and terrorist financing to which their sectors are subject.
I am surprised by what the Minister is saying. He obviously did not listen to the BBC “Analysis” programme that was broadcast about three weeks ago on the role of overseas TCSPs. We think it is great when people build real-life factories as a jumping-off point into the single market, but it is evident that TCSPs and banks located in the Baltic states, which do not have such good anti-money laundering regulatory regimes, attract money and are used as a jumping-off point to move that money into the European system. Does the Minister really think that the anti-money laundering regimes throughout the European Union are as effective the one in the UK?
I cannot comment on the specific cases that the hon. Lady mentions, because I have not seen or studied them. I imagine that there is a degree of variability in the effectiveness of regimes, but I am trying to set out the Government’s rationale for what we have in place. I do not suggest that it is perfect, but some of the developments have occurred in response to shortcomings that have been identified.
The individual anti-money laundering supervisors are under a duty to identify and assess international and domestic risks, including the money laundering and terrorism risk, which ensures that the most intensive supervision is applied where the highest risks of money laundering exist. The establishment of OPBAS will assist with the consistent identification of such risks across the TCSP sector. Our national risk assessment makes it clear that the Government are aware of the money laundering risks connected with TCSPs, and further reform in the area should take account of the conclusions of the ongoing FATF review. I assure Opposition Members that the regime is a searching and exacting one. I know from ministerial meetings concerning preparations for it that the evaluation will be exacting. We expect the observations to be meaningful, and we will need to respond carefully to them. However, until we receive the outcome of that review of the UK’s anti-money laundering regime and of the experience of OPBAS as its role develops, it would not be appropriate to adopt the amendment.
Hon. Members should be mindful of the fact that anti-money laundering supervision around the world follows a territorial model. Simply requiring non-UK TCSPs to have a UK supervisor when they set up UK companies will not address the challenges of extra-territorial supervision. Effective anti-money laundering supervision depends on measures that include supervisory on-site visits and close engagement with higher-risk firms. Requiring a UK supervisor to do that in relation to a non-UK firm will not, in and of itself, address the issue that hon. Members have identified.
As was noted in the other place, the most effective means of combating international money laundering is cross-border co-operation to drive up the standards of overseas supervision and enforcement. For those reasons, we have imposed a duty on each UK anti-money laundering supervisor to take such steps as they consider appropriate to co-operate with overseas authorities. That is the agenda we pursue through the global FATF process. I therefore respectfully ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clause.
I am grateful to the Minister for those remarks and clarifications. They have been genuinely helpful, but I regret that some areas are still rather unclear to me; perhaps they are not to other Committee members. He stated that the highest-risk TCSPs are assessed to be UK ones, but it has not been spelled out why. Perhaps he could write to me about that.
I would be happy to write to the hon. Lady to spell that out. My understanding is that UK-based TCSPs typically offer a wider range of services and there are vulnerabilities in the additional services, but I will investigate and write to her as quickly as I can.
I am grateful to the Minister for offering to look into that. We must always be wary of talking about a general pattern of activity as necessarily reflecting the risk profile of that overall activity. Among those TCPS, there could be overseas ones that are not appropriately regulated and that also offer a wide range of services, in the same way as some UK TCSPs do.
I am also a bit confused about the professional regulators. As the Minister said, there are about 22 of them, and then on top of that we stick Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Financial Conduct Authority and so on. As I understand it, the professional regulators do not have members based in other countries; they cover only UK residents. We are talking about, for example, the Law Society of Scotland and the Law Society of England and Wales—professional bodies dealing with UK individuals. We are not talking about professional associations covering professionals in other countries.
The Minister seemed to talk about a process of liaison between these organisations and their counterparts in other countries. I am sure we all want to encourage that, because it sounds like a very good idea. Information sharing is wonderful, but information sharing is not the same as having an appropriate process of regulation to ensure that there is compliance with anti-money laundering requirements.
The Minister said that the approach was an extraterritorial one, because it affects bodies in other countries. That is absolutely right, but those bodies then interact with our company formation procedure. That is the reason why we, as a country, have a stake in this process—a rather large one, given the reputational damage that seems to be being caused by the activities of some unregulated or inappropriately regulated TCSPs. I will be pressing the new clause to a vote.