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Countrywide fined as estate agents hit in money laundering crackdown

Tom Belger
Contributor
Property in the UK. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

UK estate agent Countrywide (CWD.L) has been fined as part of a crackdown on estate agents suspected of failing to report money laundering.

The company, which describes itself as Britain’s biggest property services firm, was forced to pay a £215,000 fine for failing to comply with rules aimed at spotting dirty money.

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) revealed the fine after a week of “intelligence-led” action against 50 estate agents across England.

Officials carried out unannounced inspections of dozens of companies suspected of failing to register under money laundering regulations.

READ MORE: Profits halved at Countrywide estate agent

35 of the estate agents were in London, as well as five in Leicester, four in South Bucks and Berkshire, three in Greater Manchester and one each in Watford, Wakefield and Wolverhampton.

The security and economic crime minister Ben Wallace said: “Criminals who seek to use this country as a place to launder money should be in no doubt that they have nowhere to hide.

“Estate agents are a crucial line of defence against them and that’s why they’re under a legal – and moral – obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss.”

He said it was wrong to see money laundering as victimless, with dirty cash often fuelling organised crime.

READ MORE: HMRC tells firms how to prepare for no-deal Brexit

HMRC issued 655 penalties related to money laundering in 2017-18 alone, recovering more than £31m in money obtained through crime.

The announcement of the fine against Countrywide marks a blow for the company, which also saw its profits halve last year amid a weaker housing market.

The company was also forced to issue shares after four profit warnings last year, and blamed its troubles on a significant restructure which had led to the loss of experienced staff.

No further details were given by the government about the reasons for Countrywide’s fine.

A Countrywide spokeswoman said: “Countrywide has conducted a full review of its anti-money laundering controls and has taken thorough measures to strengthen the processes that support and monitor compliance throughout the business. 

“The action plan implemented includes investment in systems, training and additional colleagues to improve the checks undertaken and to monitor transactions, all of which reinforces our ongoing commitment to ensurfull compliance with regulatory requirements. “