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Accounting & Finance

Money Laundering Through Property


What is money laundering, and why is property used for this criminal activity? Wherever there’s dirty money, someone’s got to wash it and circulate it around the economy so that the authorities don’t catch on. Perhaps that’s why money laundering through real estate is a trillion-dollar industry, not only because it’s easy to wash the money but also because it offers some very lucrative returns.  Plus, it’s not just hardened lawbreakers using the real estate sector to make money illegally.

Crimes in real estate and the laundering of money through property transactions are not that easy to detect.  Extensive time and resources are needed to bring offenders to justice and secure a conviction. Financial criminals are getting smarter too.  The longer they stay active and hone their methods, the harder they are to catch.  Governments are keen to stamp down on money laundering activities, but it’s a slippery fish.

UK Real Estate Money Laundering

The UK is one of the many countries that is having a tough time preventing the “McMafia-style” money laundering through real estate.

An estimated £90bn is laundered illegally through the UK every year, which also affect all law-abiding citizens as this action contributes to the inflation of the property market. Buying homes for inflated prices is locking out legitimate homeowners, and this activity is prevalent in the UK, particularly in the high end of the market.

Many homes in affluent areas are bought and left unoccupied, making some of London’s wealthier parts seem barren and empty. The country’s mansions are also a target, and many remain empty; however, we wouldn’t know or take much notice.

It’s the inactivity of entire streets full of empty homes in the wealthy postcodes of inner London like Chelsea and Paddington that’s a concern. Opportunistic and well-orchestrated home break-ins and general public safety while walking at dusk and nighttime rise when fewer people are around.

However, while bustling urban life may be diminishing in wealthier neighbourhoods, lawmakers are more focused on legislating change to halt the laundering activity, which is the proceeds of other criminal activity like the sale of drugs. In response to this, many countries have created legislation to respond to money laundering tactics. This activity is rife in smaller countries like Australia and New Zealand.

Smaller Countries Also Suffer

Even smaller countries such as New Zealand suffer from money laundering horrors, with an estimated $1B laundered through property sales every year. Even in such a small country, a huge amount of money exchange hands through the illicit purchase of a property.

So What Can Be Done?

This year, the UK Treasury proposed adopting the EU’s Fifth Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD) into national law, resulting in new duties imposed on landlords to carry out due diligence on their tenants. Do landlords need the extra workload pushed onto them? However, the directive would effectively make money laundering through property purchases and sales far more difficult.

EU Report

The EPRS (European Parliamentary Research Service) has put out a report on real estate used to hide and clean funds from ill-gotten gains in this report. There is a lot to be done, and in the report, it says by 2021, there will be “a public register requiring overseas companies that own or buy property in the UK to provide details of their ultimate owners.” in an attempt to halt the corruption and bring to justice offenders.

Fraudulent Activities In Real Estate

It’s not just the big syndicates targeting real estate – smaller criminal activity is also occurring.  Homeowners can also get caught up in illegal real estate transactions, so it pays to beware of types of activities that attract fraudsters.

Our recent article details where you and your money may soon be parted through no error on your behalf. From real estate listings to misrepresentations by the seller or buyer – you need to know what to look out to stay within the law and keep your assets in your ownership.