UK's biggest business bank NatWest has been fined for for failing to comply with money laundering rules, the country's Financial Conduct Authority says.

The case represented the first time the Financial Conduct Authority pushed through a criminal prosecution under money-laundering regulations introduced in 2007.
The case represented the first time the Financial Conduct Authority pushed through a criminal prosecution under money-laundering regulations introduced in 2007. (Reuters Archive)

British bank NatWest has been fined around $350 million (265 million pounds) for failing to prevent the laundering of hundreds of millions of pounds, in the first criminal money laundering case against a British bank.

A gang deposited hundreds of millions of pounds in cash at around 50 branches of NatWest, prosecutors for Britain's financial regulator said on Monday, with at least one outlet receiving more than $52.8 million.

Couriers walked through the streets of towns across the country carrying bags of cash they deposited at the bank's branches before the scheme was busted by police, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) told a judge.

One person in Walsall, central England, arrived at a branch with so much cash (around $925,000) that it burst the bin liners it was being carried in. 

The money had to be repacked in hessian bags, the FCA's lawyer Clare Montgomery said, adding the cash did not fit in the branch's floor-to-ceiling safes.

“NatWest is responsible for a catalogue of failures in the way it monitored and scrutinised transactions that were self-evidently suspicious,” Mark Steward, the FCA’s executive director of enforcement, said in a statement. 

READ MORE: Europol: Over ten percent of global GDP is held in offshore accounts

Failure to enforce regulations

NatWest's legal team said it accepted its failure to enforce the regulations but maintained that the suspicious deposits had been identified and scrutinised.

"The quality or adequacy of that scrutiny is another matter," lawyer John Kelsey-Fry told the court.

NatWest chief executive Alison Rose has voiced the bank's "deep regret" at failing to properly monitor the client and pledged "significant resources" to fight financial crime.

The offences related to operational weaknesses between 2012 and 2016, and involved Fowler Oldfield, a jeweller in Bradford, England.

READ MORE: EU to set up anti-money laundering watchdog in wake of scandals

Suspicions transactions

NatWest, the partially state-owned bank formerly known as Royal Bank of Scotland, had pleaded guilty on October 7 to charges related to deposits made by a jewellery business between 2012 and 2016.

Over the course of the relationship, the customer deposited over 482 million dollars (365 million pounds) with the bank, about over 348.8 million dollars (264 million pounds) of it in cash, the FCA said in a statement. 

Although some NatWest workers reported suspicions about the transactions, the bank failed to take appropriate action, the regulatory agency said.

No individuals were charged as part of the proceedings.

NatWest is Britain's biggest business bank and is majority-owned by taxpayers after a $59.5 billion pound-plus state bailout during the financial crisis.

READ MORE: Global financing watchdog FATF adds Malta, Philippines, others to grey list

Source: TRTWorld and agencies