On June 23rd, 2016, Britain decided, through a popular referendum, to no longer be a part of the European Union, of which they already had a privileged membership. The recent triggering of Article 50 and the incoming Brexit negotiations are placing a lot of uncertainties and potential risks to the UK, EU, and other global economies.
However, on top of what is already well known, Brexit could also benefit international crime organisations: from the Italian ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra and Mafia to the Mexican Cartels.
Still an Unknown Threat
London is a world financial centre, and its position after Brexit is characterised by uncertainties and doubts. Nobody knows if the City will be able to maintain its massive amount of finance-related businesses, as all will depend on the negotiated terms between the UK and the EU.
However, so far, few have considered the existence of a dark side to the financial capital. In a recent UK Parliament speech, Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, author of best-seller Gomorrah and known fighter against Italian mafias, said that London is the financial centre most used by criminal organisations to launder money. According to a National Crime Agency (NCA) report, around $57bn are laundered through London banks and their overseas branches each year, with the help of lawyers, investment bankers and third parties that make the whole process smoother.
The HSBC Case
One example is, undoubtedly, the HSBC scandal in 2012. At that time, one of the largest UK banks was forced by US authorities to pay a record $1.92bn fine for money laundering related issues. In a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Department of Justice, the bank admitted to having failed in its fight against money laundering, allowing Mexico’s Sinaloa and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartels to launder more than $800m.
This case was not an isolated one, and too many times, too little attention is paid to this kind of news.
What Is Changing with Brexit
Even though laundering is already a widespread phenomenon that, at the moment, seems unstoppable, Brexit could, in some ways, make things worse. In fact, with the UK leaving the EU, as argued by Italian public prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who has been living under protection since 1989, in a recent interview, there will be an inevitable increase in bureaucracy between the EU and the UK.
This increased red tape could create problems and difficulties in cooperation between British and European Authorities. And on the other hand, knowing these deficiencies, criminal organisations could exploit the favourable situation, and increase the amount of money laundering.
Possible Ways Forward
It is clear that dealing with such an issue is far from easy, especially because of the enormous amount of money involved and of its international nature. On the other hand, it must be neither minimised nor considered as unstoppable.
In addition to action by the local police forces, aimed at stopping these criminal organisations from carrying on their primary businesses, a more stringent and efficient anti-laundering program should be implemented by banks, with the aim of increasing the traceability of capital flowing in.
Of course, another crucial point is that Brexit negotiators address the issue by ensuring that international authorities cooperate in a smooth and transparent manner.
With less bureaucracy, in fact, the chances of stopping, or at least limiting, this illegal activity increase dramatically and eventually the world could get rid of a phenomenon that nowadays, unfortunately, is still underestimated.