July 24, 2017 / 10:14 AM / a month ago

UK watchdog consults on new anti-money laundering supervisor

The logo of the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is seen at the agency's headquarters in the Canary Wharf business district of London April 1, 2013.Chris Helgren

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's markets watchdog published the remit on Monday for a new "supervisor of supervisors" that will check if anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules are being applied properly by 200,000 lawyers and accountants.

The Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) was called for by the government and will seek to improve coordination among supervisors of anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules and law enforcement.

OPBAS will be hosted by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to close loopholes and iron out differences in anti-money laundering guidelines being applied by 22 legal and accounting professional bodies with more than 200,000 members.

The government wants OPBAS, dubbed a "supervisor of supervisors" by one law firm, up and running by the start of 2018.

It will supervise the application of anti-money laundering rules introduced in June this year by professional bodies such as the Law Society and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

"The aim of OPBAS will be to ensure consistency and quality and to drive up standards across all professional body anti-money laundering supervisors in the UK," Megan Butler, executive director of wholesale supervision at the FCA, said in a statement.

Michael Ruck, a senior financial services enforcement lawyer at Pinsent Masons and a former FCA employee, said the new watchdog will lack real teeth.

"The government's decision to only allow for the regulator to issue public censures and not impose any financial penalties for failings it identifies may well speak volumes for what appears to be the government’s commitment to such a body," Ruck said.

The FCA said the new watchdog will charge professional body supervisors a fee to recover its 2 million pound annual running cost and will focus its resources on where the risk is greatest.

OPBAS will not oversee anti-money laundering supervision by government agencies such as the Gambling Commission and HM Revenue and Customs.

Reporting by Huw Jones, editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely

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