Independent Hawala Banking Expert Has A Difficult Job
As a forensic accountant specialising in financial crime, much of my work revolves around money laundering issues and assessing the extent of any proceeds of crime. Many cases bring me into contact with the Crown’s money laundering experts, for example those working within the Metropolitan Police’s dedicated unit. Their work is essential in the fight against crime, and I fully appreciate their levels of expertise and experience in this area.
There is a thriving network of money laundering within the UK, run by criminal gangs often based overseas. Dirty street cash from the likes of drug peddling is gathered in vast quantities and needs to be injected into the banking system so that it can be distributed to overseas criminals or used to fund further criminal activity. One of the major ways of doing this is to identify legitimate transfers of money into the UK, and hijack the system in order to pass the dirty money to unsuspecting recipients while at the same time transferring the equivalent value to the criminals abroad.
When a relation in Pakistan wants to send money to somebody, or a business there wants to buy something from the UK, it is quite normal to approach a local money transfer agency, often a Hawaladar. This person will take the cash, and instruct his counterpart to pay out the equivalent amount in the UK. When the system has been hijacked by criminals, the UK Hawaladar will take receipt of dirty street cash and pay it to the innocent recipients expecting the funds.
Very often I see innocent parties receiving money in the UK being accused of money laundering. In my view their crime is not being aware of the risks involved dealing with non-mainstream banking institutions. It bewilders me when businessmen expecting sales proceeds of a property in India for example, agree to meet in a car park in the UK to receive a holdall containing £100,000 or more in cash. They are surprised themselves when they are immediately arrested for money laundering and their solicitors must turn to me to trace any legitimate aspects of their business deals and explain the concept of Hawala to the Courts!
Hawala transfers are entirely legitimate, but genuine persons running this type of business, the Hawladars, are registered with HMRC and comply with all the anti-money laundering guidelines laid down by the FCA. Any person using text messages and half a banknote to identify the person delivering his money should expect the police to be monitoring the deal.
Time flies in the forensic accounting world
It is now five years since I formally commenced my specialist firm of Chartered Accountants, providing forensic accounting services in cases of fraud, financial crime and money laundering. I was fortunate in being able to continue my business development that I had begun within several of the leading firms of accountants, Grant Thornton, Baker Tilly and Bentley Jennison (now absorbed into Baker Tilly). The assignments I tend to carry out benefit from having a high proportion of my personal expert input, which was becoming harder in big firms as clients’ purse strings became tighter and fee expectation grew higher.
Running my own firm now I tend to find that the assignment profile is much the same, with a healthy balance of large and small cases from a wide range of work providers. These range from large firms of city lawyers to smaller regional practices, from fraud regulators such as the various Police forces to companies and individuals who have experienced fraud – or are receiving the attention of fraud regulators! Busier now than I ever was, my goal is to ensure that I maintain an expected high quality of work, but more importantly to provide the flexibility and personal attention that has allowed my firm to flourish.