A new watchdog, the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision ("OPBAS") is being set up in an effort to clamp down on money-laundering and criminal financing.

OPBAS will be operational by early 2018 and will sit within the Financial Conduct Authority. It is part of a wider Government aim to fight economic crime and comes at a time when legislation focusing on money-laundering, tax evasion and terrorist financing is being introduced (see our separate article on the Criminal Finances Act 2017).

The different guidelines and rules that the FCA, the Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue & Customs and professional bodies have in place to tackle money laundering and economic crime have allowed loopholes to exist which have been exploited by criminals. OPBAS will combat these weaknesses by introducing a new stricter regime which will simplify the rules, bring the UK into line with the latest international standards and ensure consistently high supervision across all sectors. It will also ensure that supervisors and law enforcement work together more effectively.

The announcement of OPBAS in April coincided with the FCA's appointment of Vincent Coughlin QC as Chief Criminal Counsel. As a hardened criminal barrister, he is expected to push forward the FCA's plans to undertake more criminal investigations into insider-trading and money laundering, and a record number of criminal prosecutions by the FCA is anticipated.

Serious and organised crime costs the UK economy at least £24bn each year. It is hoped that OPBAS and the wider efforts by the Government will send a strong message that money-laundering and other forms of economic crime will not be tolerated in the UK.