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McMafia: the truth behind the drama

Friday 02 February 2018

On 29 January, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption and campaign group Global Witness held a parliamentary roundtable event to discuss how international crime operates, and the real-life issues behind the hit BBC drama, McMafia.

It was a full house as Global Witness and the APPG were joined by the show's creators Hoss Amini and James Watkins, lead actor James Norton and Misha Glenny, the author of the book on which the series is based, together with NAEA Propertymark Chief Executive Mark Hayward, for a debate and Q&A session chaired by the Guardian's political editor Anushka Asthana.

Centered around a hedge fund manager who becomes embroiled in a world of financial corruption, McMafia shines a light into London's underworld of organised crime.

Exploring the facts behind the drama, panellists discussed how the show reflects the real world, and drew attention to how the UK has become a desirable jurisdiction for criminals seeking to park or conceal their dirty money.

Investigative journalist Misha Glenny, whose book inspired the TV series, said the show focused on the UK capital “because London has become so important in the world of money laundering through the property market.” The city of London attracts a huge amount of inward investment through property each year, with officials estimating that around £90 billion of illegal funds is laundered through the UK annually.

During the session, Dame Hodge MP said that every crook and villain in the world uses the UK’s regulatory system to set up their companies because of its veneer of respectability, stating that the UK and its overseas territories have become the jurisdiction of choice for all financial crimes and corruption - as demonstrated by the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers.

John Penrose MP, the newly appointed Anti-Corruption Champion, followed this up by stressing the importance of consensus for public registers, and taking on a multilateral approach that looks at precedent cases. He also said that while the matter of overseas territories is important, corruption extends beyond the movement of money abroad. He argued that, for instance, UK public services and insider threats also need to be examined.

During the event, Global Witness launched a new tool that allows Londoners to look up the number of secretly-owned properties in their borough, and then tweet the figure to their MP. In total, Global Witness calculates that there are 37,746 anonymously owned properties across London, with Westminster taking the top spot with more than 10,500 secret properties.

National Crime Agency figures show their UK Financial Intelligence Unit (UKFIU) continues to experience a yearly increase in the number of submitted Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), as well as a rise in the number of cases where a Defence Against Money Laundering (DAML) has been requested.

Speaking after the roundtable discussion, NAEA Propertymark Chief Executive Mark Hayward commented: “This was a stark reminder of the significant level of illegal funds finding its way into the UK property market, and where fiction is very much fact.”

You have an important role to play

It's paramount that agents understand their obligations and are undertaking the appropriate checks. You can better understand new requirements by booking your place on our Financial Crime Update course, and if you can’t attend that, our new online Anti-Money Laundering course offers an introduction into how to recognise money laundering ‘red flags’, the role of the National Crime Agency and how to identify criminal property.