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Countrywide fined £215,000 in HMRC crackdown

Estate agency group Countrywide has been hit with a £215,000 fine for failures in its anti-money laundering checks.

News of the fine comes after the Government this week revealed HM Revenue & Customs made surprise visits to 50 estate agency firms as part of a crackdown on money laundering in the property industry.

Countrywide’s breaches were for failing to ensure adequate controls at group level, failures in due diligence, verification and proper record keeping.

There was also a £68,595 penalty for online estate agent Tepilo, which was founded by TV property expert Sarah Beeny and went into administration last year before being taken over by another firm.

Economic secretary to the Treasury John Glen says: “The vast majority of estate agents play by the rules and help us to crack down on dirty money.

“But I have zero tolerance for firms prepared to turn a blind eye to the law.

“Money laundering regulation exists to help protect honest business, so anyone who flaunts the law should know that swift action will be taken.

Minister for national security and economic crime Ben Wallace says: “Criminals who seek to use this country as a place to launder money should be in no doubt that they have nowhere to hide.

“Estate agents are a crucial line of defence against them and that’s why they’re under a legal – and moral – obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss.

He adds: “It’s wrong to think of money laundering as a victimless crime. Those with dirty cash to clean don’t just sit on it – they reinvest it in serious organised crime, from drug importation to child sexual exploitation, human trafficking and even terrorism.”

“Estate agents are a crucial line of defence against them and that’s why they’re under a legal – and moral – obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss.”

A spokeswoman for Countrywide says it “has conducted a full review of its anti-money laundering controls and has taken thorough measures to strengthen the processes that support and monitor compliance throughout the business”.

She adds: “The action plan implemented includes investment in systems, training and additional colleagues to improve the checks undertaken and to monitor transactions, all of which reinforces our ongoing commitment to ensure full compliance with regulatory requirements.”

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