April 20, 2018 / 3:47 PM / 3 months ago

UK bolsters financial sanctions watchdog to tackle "dirty money"

WASHINGTON, April 20 (Reuters) - Britain is increasing by nearly 20 percent the number of staff within its finance ministry who are focused on detecting and investigating breaches of international economic sanctions, finance minister Philip Hammond said on Friday.

“We must tighten the financial screws on rogue regimes and corruption,” Hammond said in Washington, where he is attending a meeting of the International Monetary Fund. “My priority is to secure international agreement on how to tackle dirty money.”

As the world’s biggest international financial hub, London has faced criticism from bodies such as Transparency International for doing too little to keep tabs on the trillions of dollars of funds that flow through it.

The number of staff employed by Britain’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation, which includes police and intelligence officers as well as finance ministry officials, will however remain relatively modest, rising to just under 40.

Earlier this week Hammond joined other finance ministers from the Group of Seven rich nations in committing to crack down on North Korea’s use of shell companies and artificial ownership structures to evade sanctions.

Britain is also considering tougher sanctions against Russia, after the poisoning of double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury in March.

Asked whether Britain had been too slow to probe the financial affairs of Russian oligarchs who have invested in British real estate and companies, Hammond said it was important to afford due process to everyone investigated.

“We have to have a clear evidence trail,” Hammond told reporters in Washington. “Any speed of action or not is nothing to do with not wanting to stop the flow of money. It’s about process.” (Reporting by David Lawder, writing by David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison)

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