This month, the U.K.’s new anti-money laundering rules officially went into effect alongside a publicity campaign from the country’s security minister, which referenced a new TV crime show co-produced by the BBC and AMC.
The new rules, called unexplained wealth orders (UWOs), enable authorities to freeze assets and seize property valued over £50,000 if the purchases are higher than the buyer’s income; individuals under investigation via the UWOs must then disclose the legal source of their wealth in order to regain their assets. (The New York Times’ Interpreter columnists noted UWOs bore a similarity to American civil forfeiture system.)
According to The Telegraph, authorities estimate about £90 billion is laundered via the U.K. each year — a figure double the country’s annual defense budget, as security minister Ben Wallace noted in a column he wrote for The Sun.
“Denying international crooks the safe haven of London property and high value possessions will mean we can strike at the things that matter most to them,” wrote Wallace.
In addition to penning the column, Wallace is using an unconventional source to garner support for employing the rules: a new TV show, based on a non-fiction book by journalist Misha Glenny, called McMafia, which portrays a Russian family with ties to organized crime living in London under an unraveling pretense of legitimacy. The show, jointly-produced by BBC and AMC, launched in the U.K. on New Year’s Day and will premiere in America on February 26.
For Wallace, the show provides a popular venue to explain the purpose — and the government’s resolve — to use UWOs.
Wallace concluded his Sun column by writing: “It is time the flashy McMafia mob felt the long arm of the law.”
He clarified to The Times that his apparent singling out of Russian organized crime was due to the 2014 “Laundromat exposé” where 21 U.K.-based companies laundered more than $20 billion from Russia through Western banks.
“What we know from the Laundromat exposé is that certainly there have been links to the [Russian] state,” Wallace told The Times. “McMafia is one of those things where you realize that fact is ahead of fiction… so far it’s very close to the truth.”
The Russian Embassy in the U.K. responded, via its colorful Twitter account, by launching a poll asking followers to guess how many Russian nationals were currently imprisoned in the country and characterized the show as “cliches BBC is spreading,” according to the Times.
As the pop culture-based PR battle ensued, Reuters reported the head of the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office, David Green, told an audience on the eve of the UWOs coming into effect that his office had been “combing through all existing case work and intelligence and have matters of interest.”
Corruption watchdog Transparency International claims to have identified £4.4 billion worth of properties fit for investigation under the new rules.