Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs)

If, in the course of business in the regulated sector, an individual learns information that leads him to suspect (or have reasonable grounds for suspecting) that another person is engaged in money laundering, a report must be made either to the firm’s nominated officer (often referred to as the Money Laundering Reporting Officer) or to the National Crime Agency (NCA). 

A report filed with the NCA is called a SAR.1  The nominated officer must determine whether a report from an individual within the firm gives rise to a requirement to file a SAR; if so, the nominated officer must file a SAR with the NCA.  Subject to certain defenses, it is a criminal offense punishable with a maximum of five years’ imprisonment to fail to make such a report.  Where firms in the non-regulated sector choose to appoint a nominated officer, then such officers are required to file a SAR with the NCA if they receive a disclosure from someone in their organisation and it meets the requirements for filing a SAR below.

SARs are generally required if:

  • it is possible to identify the person who is suspected to be engaged in money laundering;
  • it is possible to identify the whereabouts of any of the laundered property; or
  • it is reasonable to expect that the information in the report may assist in identifying the suspected person or the whereabouts of any of the laundered property. 

The statutory trigger, “suspicion,” has a very low threshold.  One court has interpreted it as meaning “a possibility, which is more than fanciful, that the relevant facts exist.  A vague feeling of unease would not suffice.”2

Though not required, firms outside the regulated sector may file a SAR to request consent and obtain a defense to one of the substantive money laundering offenses.  For more on the consent defense, see here.

 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, c. 29, § 330 (UK).

2 R v. Da Silva [2006] EWCA Crim 1654.

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