The Criminal Finances Bill, published today, would hand new powers to the National Crime Agency and increase the regulatory burden on financial services businesses - though inadequate resources may hamper the success of the measures proposed.
That was the first verdict of financial crime specialists on the Home Office bill which covers the seizure of criminal assets, creates an offences of failure to prevent tax evasion, and hands the National Crime Agency powers to demand extra information from financial services businesses.
Charlotte Hill (pictured), partner at international firm Covington, told the Gazette that suspicious activity reports (SARs) proposals were significant, as these would ‘create a power for the [National Crime Agency] to ask for further information’ following a SAR.
Clients could ‘expect much more interaction with the NCA’, she added. ‘There is a feeling that [currently] nothing happens with suspicious activity reports.’ The danger here, she noted was that extra requests, if not processed quickly by the NCA, would slow down business.
Proposals to create a new power to seize unexplained wealth risked ‘a lot of false hits’, Hill observed. Commenting on proposals to seize portable high value items – such as paintings and jewelry – she noted: ‘Previous legislation [such as the proceeds of crime act] didn’t deliver on their promise. The burden of proof seemed too high.’
Overall, Hill noted: ‘This [approach confirms] the direction that anti-money laundering, terrorist financing and financial crime legislation are going in.’ It was driven by the fact that ‘criminals are getting cleverer.’
Better data-sharing between criminal and enforcement agencies, including the NCA and the Financial Conduct Authority, was welcome, Hill noted. But the NCA, she said, ‘does need the resources to do all this’.