Pandora Papers leak shines spotlight on property markets AML weaknesses

Following the Pandora Papers leak, and the BBC uncovering that more than 1,500 UK properties have been bought using offshore firms, John Dobson, CEO of SmartSearch said: “From sex traffickers to drug smugglers and terrorists, those who launder money through purchasing property include some of the worst criminals on the planet.

“Although sadly not a new issue, the threat of money-laundering through the purchase of property has increased recently. With the pandemic causing transactions to be conducted remotely, the UK government recently raised its own assessment of the money laundering risk for the property market from “medium” to “high”.

“For those working in the property purchase chain, offshore buyers should raise a red flag. While legal to own property through an offshore firm, it is key to identify who is actually providing the funds.

“Finding the Ultimate Beneficial Owner, and then screening them against sanctions lists takes significant time through traditional methods.

“This doesn’t need to be the case. By using an electronic verification system, money-laundering through offshore funds could be dramatically reduced.

“The system will identify who is the beneficiary of the transaction, and even screen them against global sanction lists to identify whether they, or anyone they are close to is involved in illicit activities.

“The government is assessing how to prevent money-laundering through legislation, we’d strongly recommend they mandate the use of electronic verification. As the individual is identified through credit checks, electronic verification not only avoids the issue of forged documents, it also screens them against the hundreds of constantly changing worldwide sanctions lists.”