"Estate agents are a crucial line of defence against them and that’s why they’re under a legal – and moral – obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss."
HMRC has fined Countrywide £215,000 as part of a crackdown on money laundering.
HMRC officers visited 50 estate agents across England after they were suspected of trading without being registered as required under money laundering regulations.
Countrywide Estate Agents was fined for failing to ensure adequate policies, controls and procedures and for failures in conducting due diligence and proper record keeping.
Tepilo was also fined £68,595 for failing to adhere to money laundering regulations. Tepilo went into administration in December 2018 and HMRC stressed that the company now owning the Tepilo brand name was not involved in the breaches.
In a statement, HMRC said it will take action against the visited businesses who have failed to comply, which can include fines and criminal proceedings.
John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said: "The vast majority of estate agents play by the rules and help us to crack down on dirty money. But I have zero tolerance for firms prepared to turn a blind eye to the law. Money laundering regulation exists to help protect honest business, so anyone who flaunts the law should know that swift action will be taken."
Ben Wallace, Minister for National Security and Economic Crime, commented: "Criminals who seek to use this country as a place to launder money should be in no doubt that they have nowhere to hide. Estate agents are a crucial line of defence against them and that’s why they’re under a legal – and moral – obligation to file a report when they spot something amiss.
"It’s wrong to think of money laundering as a victimless crime. Those with dirty cash to clean don’t just sit on it – they reinvest it in serious organised crime, from drug importation to child sexual exploitation, human trafficking and even terrorism."
Simon York, Director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, added: "Estate agents need to understand that criminals prey on weaknesses, so it’s vital they take all steps to protect themselves. The money laundering regulations are key to that, but there’s still a minority of agents who ignore their legal obligations. These inspections are a wake-up call that if you continue to trade illegally we will come knocking."