The average jail term for money-laundering offences rose to a record high of 27 months in 2018 following the introduction of tougher new sentencing guidelines as part of a crackdown on the flow of dirty money into the UK.
Research by Thomson Reuters revealed the average length of prison sentences for offenders convicted of money laundering has risen 32 per cent in the past decade, from a term of 20.5 months in December 2008.
It follows the advent of tougher sentencing guidelines in 2014, which gave prosecutors more flexibility to argue for longer sentences for offenders convicted of money laundering and bribery.
Charles Thomson, partner at Baker McKenzie, said: “The new sentencing guidelines have opened the door for prosecutors to demand even longer sentences for the UK’s money launderers.
“It seems as though judges are more willing than ever to accept prosecutions’ cases that money-laundering offences deserve some of the harshest punishments available.”
The UK government estimates that fraud costs individuals £6.8bn a year — about £255 per household. Money-laundering offences carry a sentence of up to 14 years in prison or a large fine, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
In 2014 the Sentencing Council, an independent body designed to promote consistency in sentencing across the UK, introduced new guidelines which specifically addressed money laundering and bribery for the first time and targeted corporations as well as individuals.
The new sentencing guidelines for bribery, fraud and money laundering introduced a new emphasis on the vulnerability of victims too, recommending harsher punishment for crimes where the financial loss was relatively small but the impact on the victim high.
The definition of harm was also broadened to take into account factors such as distress and inconvenience as well as physical harm and monetary loss.
The UK government has pledged to crack down on the estimated £90bn tide of “dirty money” flowing into London, through the use of new powers such as unexplained wealth orders and account freezing orders.
Unexplained wealth orders enable the National Crime Agency to force individuals with assets of more than £50,000 to explain how they can afford them if it appears their income is insufficient.
According to the Thomson Reuters report, fines are being issued less frequently as part of the money-laundering sentencing process.
Fines as a percentage of the total number of sentences issued for money-laundering offences have fallen over the past five years, from 13 per cent in 2013 to 7 per cent in 2018, according to Thomson Reuters.