Chancellor Gordon Brown is asking accountants to warn the financial authorities, police and security services if they suspect that Britain is being used to launder cash for terrorists.
In the wake of the US suicide hijack atrocities, he has made clear that all of the financial sector must take part in the ‘war’ against those responsible for the slaughter at the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
And now aides have confirmed to Accountancy Age that the profession has a key role to play. The chancellor is prepared to change the law if necessary to ensure that accountants’ duty of professional confidentiality to their clients does not stand in the way of the battle to catch international terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden, and cut off their financial aid.
The urgency of the accountancy and financial detection trail has been heightened by suspicions that bin Laden and his network may have made massive profits by dealing in stocks and shares in advance of the horrors of 11 September.
Brown has said publicly: ‘There should be no safe haven for terrorism. There should be no safe haven for terrorist funds.
‘What we have to do now is persuade other countries to take the sort of action that we have been taking.’ He added: ‘I think it is right to say that where a financial institution suspects that there is a bank account being used for terrorist purposes, it should have an obligation to report that.’
Sources close to Brown – who has already closed one bank account believed to be used by terrorists – made it clear that accountants are crucial in the battle against terrorism. One said: ‘Clearly, accountants have a major role to play. They are the main financial watchdogs. If anyone can spot something strange going on, it is them.
‘There is already recent legislation requiring accountants to notify us if they suspect money laundering is taking place for drug barons or criminal gangs. We believe the same applies to terrorists.
‘In the current climate, we would hope that accountants are looking for this type of money laundering and would notify the relevant authorities if they saw something suspicious.
He added: ‘But if it is needed we are prepared to amend the law to ensure this does not affect their duty of confidentiality to clients.
‘The Home Office is taking through the Proceeds of Crime Bill later this year and we could include the relevant amendments to the law in that.’
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