Spotlight on Corruption, an anti-graft charity, says economic crime costs the UK hundreds of times more than the government spends fighting it each year.
Spotlight on Corruption, says in its report that the government spends £852 million each year on the budgets of national level agencies that fight economic crime.
Meanwhile, the National Crime Agency estimates that money laundering costs the UK some £100 billion while separate losses to fraud amount to around £190 billion.
The Spotlight report said the authorities were being “overstretched and outgunned” by the criminals.
“We’re calling for the UK government to create a central economic crime fighting fund by reinvesting some of the revenue law enforcement agencies generate back into their work,” says Susan Hawley, Spotlight’s executive director.
“With law enforcement so under resourced and the costs of economic crime so high, this should be a no-brainer.”
Spotlight estimated that the amount allocated to agency budgets amounted to 0.09% of government expenditure while the amount lost through money laundering and other economic crime was about 14.5% of gross domestic product.
The police, which the government says will receive £12 billion this year, was not included in the report.
The UK has long been a haven for dirty money from corrupt sources all over the world. In 2020, parliament’s intelligence and security committee’s Russia report found illicit finance was being cycled through a “London laundromat”.
In 2019, the NCA’s then director-general, Dame Lynne Owens, said she needed a 54% budget increase to be able to fight economic and organised crime effectively. But between 2016 and 2021 it suffered a 4.2% decrease in its core budget, according to Spotlight.
The NCA said: “We have seen those with questionable funds choosing not to invest in assets under UK jurisdiction, and some with assets here trying to divest to pre-empt any law enforcement action.”
Spotlight has called for a new economic crime fund, using ill-gotten gains. The Serious Fraud Office generated around £1.6 billion in settlements known as deferred prosecution agreements in the past five years, as well as millions more in fines and penalties. However those flow to the Exchequer, rather than being reinvested in crime prevention.
According to Spotlight, a lack of resourcing is contributing to a decline in prosecutions for money laundering and other kinds of economic crime. Prosecutions for money laundering have fallen by 35% since 2016 according to Spotlight.
The Home Office said: “The UK is a world leader when it comes to tackling money laundering, we will not tolerate criminals profiting on dirty money and the government will do whatever is necessary to bring these criminals to justice.”
“The UK is losing the fight against fraud . . . The authorities are struggling to cope because they are grotesquely underfunded . . . Some radical new thinking is required,” counters Jonathan Fisher, a barrister at Bright Line Law, who specialises in financial crime.
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