UK banks have been accused of ‘offering their services to those with money to hide’ after a leaked cache of thousands of documents revealed some of the world’s largest financial firms have facilitated criminals and fraudsters in processing dirty cash.
More than 2,000 sensitive banking papers detailing more than two trillion US dollars' worth of transactions were analysed by a consortium of investigative journalists across 108 organisations including the BBC after being leaked to BuzzFeed News.
The documents allegedly show banking officials allowed fraudsters to shuttle money between different accounts after being made aware the profits were from multimillion-pound scams or crimes.
They are also reported to detail the ways in which Russian oligarchs use banks to dodge international sanctions and move money into the West.
Referred to as the FinCEN files — from the US Financial Crimes Investigation Network — the cache is mostly made up of documents banks sent to the US authorities between 2000 and 2017, raising concerns about suspicious activity in their clients' accounts, according to the BBC’s Panorama programme, which called the documents "some of the international banking system's most closely guarded secrets".
Anti-corruption group Transparency International UK said the suspicious activity reports (SARs) "repeatedly cite weak money laundering defences in the UK financial sector as a major problem".
It added: "The leak shows how UK banks continually fail to address suspicious activity and instead offered their services to those with money to hide.
"Transparency International UK's research has previously identified 86 UK banks and financial institutions which have, unwittingly or otherwise, helped corrupt individuals acquire assets and move suspicious wealth."
Chief executive Daniel Bruce said: "These revelations are a damning indictment of the system that is supposed to prevent the UK and other financial centres becoming havens for dirty money.
"The government should respond rapidly to this significant investigation in order to demonstrate that the UK is serious about tackling dirty money.
"We know the solutions exist; for example by bringing forward reform of corporate liability laws to hold banks accountable for money laundering failings and expediting the legislation to overhaul the UK company law.
"As it stands, it remains far too easy for kleptocrats and criminals to launder their illicit loot using the veneer of UK companies and institutions."
Alex Cobham, chief executive at Tax Justice Network, said: "As will be revealed over the coming days, many of the world's major financial institutions have comprehensively failed to meet their own responsibilities, in the name of turning a profit — however dirty.
"Swift and robust action is needed, including potential criminal charges, or banks will simply continue to treat the prospects of being caught and fined as a simple cost of business."
Additional reporting by PA