The deaths of 27 people in the English Channel are linked to economic crime in the UK where “much” of the money paid to criminal gangs for human trafficking is laundered, a Conservative MP has said.
Kevin Hollinrake said the UK is a destination for criminal funds because of “lax” regulations and a “concentration of advisers in this country” which help hide and then launder money.
The Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton joined Labour MP and former minister Dame Margaret Hodge to call in the House of Commons for a range of measures to tackle economic crime, including penalties for companies which fail to prevent it, and greater transparency around company and property ownership.
Mr Hollinrake said: “Perhaps among some parliamentarians, and perhaps amongst the public at large, economic crime, they perhaps don’t feel it affects them.
“Perhaps it’s a victimless crime in many people’s eyes.
“Nothing could be further from the truth.
“And if you want evidence of that, look at the 27 victims, the men, women and children who drowned in the Channel only a few days ago.
“They were victims of economic crime.”
Firstly, he said, “organised criminals” are taking “huge amounts of money” from “desperate people” to cross borders.
“But the second economic crime is that money then is laundered, and is laundered through this country – much of it is laundered through this country,” he said.
He said “to be fair” the UK is not the only nation where such activities are taking place.
He also pointed the finger at the United States, but said “it is some of our overseas territories of course and Crown dependencies” which are also involved in economic crime.
He said: “These opportunities are facilitating some of the worst crimes known to humanity.
“People trafficking, drug dealing, organised crime, terrorism, the expropriation of public money, the impoverishment of nations.”
He added: “Whether it’s £10 million in terms of the smaller scale organised criminals, whether it’s the billions of pounds from international kleptocrats, we have the opportunity to close these things down, because that money would be of no use to anybody unless they can spend it.
“To spend it they need to be able to legitimise it, and that’s what our shell companies do, the lax regime of Companies House where £12 sets up a company, no checks and balances, no identity checks, no requirement to find out currently who is the beneficial owner of that.”
Dame Margaret warned “if you can’t follow the money, dirty money triumphs”.
She told MPs: “Dirty Russian money laundered into the UK is spreading like a spider’s web to our society.
“Used to buy influence and control our football clubs, our vital infrastructure and more recently our politicians and our politics.”
Business minister Lee Rowley said the Government is “committed to continuing to build the framework which will deter such crimes from happening” and to provide “genuine accountability” but insisted that it is important the UK pursues a “targeted and proportionate level of enforcement that focuses on achieving compliance from companies”.
He said: “We must seek to counter financial crime, absolutely, but we also must seek to protect the dynamism of the UK business environment.
“The overwhelming majority of the UK’s four and a half million companies contribute productively to the UK economy, they abide by the law and then they make valuable contributions to society.”
But the Government, he said, is committed to “increasing the transparency of business, so that those behind the abusive companies can be identified so that our law enforcement bodies can access the information which will support their investigations”.