NatWest is fined more than £264million over money laundering breach

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The bank had pleaded guilty to three offences under Money Laundering Regulations between 2012 and 2016.

At Southwark Crown Court yesterday, Mrs Justice Cockerill fined NatWest £264,772,620, ordered it to pay £4,297,466 in costs and made a £460,047 confiscation order.

The judge said: “It is not suggested there has been any deliberate flouting of the rules or any criminal intent… “Although in no way complicit in the money laundering…without the bank’s failings the money could not have been laundered.”

The court heard that jeweller Fowler Oldfield had deposited £365million with NatWest over five years, including £264million in cash, some of it brought to branches in bin bags.

The firm’s predicted annual turnover was a modest £15million when it became a client in 2011. The Bradford-based firm was shut down following a police raid in 2016. It had been marked as “high risk” at first, then downgraded in late 2013, before it was the “single most lucrative” client in the Bradford region by 2014.

Prosecutor Clare Montgomery QC said there “was a rapid escalation in the amount of cash” being deposited from November 2013, with figures reaching up to £1.8million a day.

Around 50 NatWest branches were used to make deposits, with Southall, London, receiving £42million in cash from January 2015 to March 2016. No report was made that it was suspicious. The court was told how some £700,000 was paid into the Walsall, West Midlands, branch in a single day and a Halifax branch received £750,000 in three days.

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“Somebody was walking through the streets with black bin liners of cash,” said Ms Montgomery.

An outgoing manager of another cash centre said the activity was “the most suspicious money laundering” he had seen.

NatWest recorded direct cash deposits as cheque deposits between 2008 and March 2017 on the bank’s automatic monitoring system, affecting around £165million in payments from Fowler Oldfield, the court heard.

There were 11 internal money laundering reports and 10 automated transaction alerts, but Ms Montgomery said: “None of them led to an SAR (suspicious activity report) being filed.”

John Kelsey-Fry QC, defending, said: “It did not escape the bank’s system, it did not go under the radar. It was identified and subjected to scrutiny. ” It is the first time a financial institution has been prosecuted by the Financial Conduct Authority under anti-money laundering laws in the UK.

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