24 billion pounds. This is what organised crime costs the UK. Every year. It’s a stark figure.
The manifestations of serious and organised crime in this country are many and varied. Some of these crimes are unseen; some are under-reported. All have victims. The reality of organised crime in the UK is sobering. Its perpetrators are ruthless and exploitative. Often they are violent. They coerce and they corrupt. They profit from other people’s misery.
The scale and character of this criminality threatens our national security and prosperity. The most sophisticated international criminal networks now operate in a manner which was previously the preserve of nation states or large corporations. Some have vast illicit wealth. And they seek to wield state-like commercial and political power.
Serious and organised crime threatens the security of our borders; the integrity of, and public confidence in, our criminal justice system; and the security and legitimacy of our financial markets and institutions. It puts legitimate businesses at a disadvantage. Cyber crime threatens confidence in our online economy, undermines our prosperity and our economic growth. Overseas, organised crime threatens the stability of countries of strategic importance to our national security, and undermines their ability to tackle a range of threats from terrorism to major health crises.
Responding to the challenge
In 2013, in response to this challenge, we published the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy and launched the National Crime Agency. But we also acknowledged that government and law enforcement agencies cannot tackle serious and organised crime alone. We need to work hand in hand with the private sector in order to succeed.
We want the UK to be the best place in the world to do business and we want London to be the pre-eminent global financial hub. Yet we know that many hundreds of billions of dollars in illicit funds are laundered by organised criminals across the world, including in the UK.
The scale and complexity of this issue requires more than just a law enforcement response. It requires active partnership between government and industry. The financial sector already invests significantly in systems and controls to address financial crime. But for too long there has been mistrust between law enforcement agencies and the banks. Information that each party held, which could help root out and stop money launderers and other criminals from causing untold damage, was kept in silos. Everyone – the banks, regulators and law enforcement agencies – realise how short-sighted and unsustainable this is.
That is why, last year, I set up the Financial Sector Forum with the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority, to work with banks and financial institutions in order to collectively understand the threat posed by serious and organised crime, disrupt the activities of the criminals behind it, and protect our institutions from the damage it can cause. In the past year, we have met three times to discuss steps we can take together to stamp out illicit activity and ensure the UK retains its pre-eminent position in financial services worldwide.
The next stage
Tomorrow marks the next stage in this relationship. Along with the steps we have taken so far to identify and catch those who abuse the UK’s financial systems by laundering the proceeds of their crimes, including the assistance we are providing to the Arab Spring countries and Ukraine to recover the proceeds of corruption, we will officially launch the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce.
The new Taskforce will see representatives from banks and law enforcement, working together to share intelligence and gain a better understanding of the threat picture – how illicit funds are moved and stored, and how we can best target these criminals. The banks will continue to submit Suspicious Activity Reports and use the new Financial Crime Alerts Service developed by the British Banking Association. But the Taskforce will enhance existing mechanisms by allowing them to also share information on a case by case basis with the NCA that in isolation may not be considered suspicious but, when considered alongside other relevant information, can be used to detect a pattern of behaviour, or network of criminality.
In developing the Taskforce, I’ve seen real leadership from the banks, which have been particularly collaborative and proactive in its creation. They are not doing it because they have been forced to by a regulator. This is entirely voluntary; there is no regulatory or legal requirement to do it, although it will operate fully within existing legislation. The banks are committed to this work because making the UK’s financial sector even more hostile to criminals is clearly as much a priority for them as it is for government and law enforcements agencies.
I want to be clear that this is not about sharing tranches of data; it is about targeted information that meets the strict legal test for it to be shared with the NCA, which is for the purpose of the prevention or detection of crime. Only criminals should be concerned.
The Financial Sector Forum, and the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce, demonstrate the real progress that has been made under this government. Working in partnership is how we can strengthen our protection against serious and organised crime, and most importantly, disrupt and prosecute those who threaten our national security and prosperity.