Press release | March 21, 2017

Call for urgent inquiry into UK money-laundering 'failures' over Global Laundromat scandal

Global Witness is calling for a government inquiry into the 'failures' of the UK anti-money laundering rules that reportedly allowed major UK banks including HSBC, RBS, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts to handle over $700 million of laundered Russian money. The call follows Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s appeal for such an inquiry in Parliament today. 

The profits UK banks can make from handling dirty money far outweigh the sanctions they currently face for getting caught. There is a fairly simple answer to this. Senior executives have to be held personally accountable when their banks break the rules, or else it will keep happening. We have to overhaul the system, or we will keep giving the criminal and corrupt a free pass. - Murray Worthy, Senior Campaigner on Banks & Corruption

UK banks have repeatedly handled huge sums of corrupt cash, and often faced little sanction from UK regulators for their actions. In 2010, Global Witness revealed how Barclays, HSBC and others accepted millions from two corrupt Nigerian state governors. The same banks had previously been exposed handling over £1.3 billion in suspect funds from Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.

In 2009, Global Witness revealed how Barclays, HSBC and others processed payments as part of a multi-million dollar spending spree by the son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, a resource rich country with higher per capita wealth than Poland but where one in ten children die before their fifth birthday. According to the US Department of Justice, the money had been looted from Equatorial Guinea’s public coffers.

In response to the revelations, Global Witness is calling for:

  • A government inquiry into the scandal, including reporting publicly on what due diligence checks the banks did on these funds, what the financial regulators knew, and what changes to the rules are needed to prevent this happening again. 
  • All countries, including the UK’s tax havens, should introduce public registers of the real, ‘beneficial’ owners of companies and other legal entities, such as limited liability partnerships that were at the centre of the ‘Laundromat’ scheme. Countries like the UK that have already created these registers must do more to ensure that the information companies provide is comprehensive and accurate.



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