London – the New Haven for Dirty Money?

Switzerland as a haven for dirty money has long been a cherished picture painted by commentators in the Anglo-saxon world. With Brexit a reality, the cliché may soon apply to London more than anywhere else.

Images like the one of Switzerland's financial center as a haven for money launderers and mafiosi tend to stick and aren't easily removed – deservedly so or not. Film directors who portray the scene of suitcases full of money being brought to banks are likely to opt for Zurich or Geneva. And scandals such as the most recent one engulfing BSI provide the wood to keep the fire burning.

The U.K., Europe's largest financial center with the City as its heart has been most successful in avoiding any such headlines. And its notoriously aggressive media pack never tired of attacking Switzerland as an oasis for black money.

Lack of Transparency

Things sometimes aren't what they seem to be. If the Queen's subjects in the Caribbean and the Channel Islands are included in the statistics, the U.K. easily claims top spot as the world's least transparent financial market, according to the Tax Justice Network, an organization lobbying for tax fairness.

With Brexit a reality, the U.K., or what may be left of it if Scotland or another part of the union decides to leave, may easily become the new Switzerland in respect to black money. This at least is what Roberto Saviano thinks, an Italian Mafia expert and author, writing in the «Guardian» newspaper.

EU Cooperation Is Vital

Saviano says that the association with the EU helped the U.K. to fend off some of the black money and fight organized crime. The expert adds that no nation state standing alone is capable of destroying the drugs trade, money laundering and fighting terrorism, global curses as they all are.

The authorities in the U.K. know very well that the country has severe deficiencies in those respects. The ministry of the interior Home Office) in a risk assessment last year named several blind spots.

The sheer size and the complexity of the financial center increased the risks it faced relative to rival markets, the investigation concluded, adding that the police's fight against money laundering in particular was weak.

Real Estate a Particular Risk

Banks are one of the industries at risk, but the real estate business in London is even more so – the housing market in the capital being a home of corrupt money, according to a report by Transparency International in 2015.

The report showed that 36,342 real estate objects were in the hands of offshore vehicles. The Met has investigated the ownership of homes worth some 160 million pounds over the past eleven years, according to media reports.

Foreign Criminals Go Undetected

Activities involving foreign criminals mostly escape the attention of the authorities, Saviano said. Antonio La Torre, an Italian mafioso wanted in his home country, plied his business for years in Aberdeen, and remained untouched by the local police.

Only a European request for extradition finally led to his arrest.


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