Britain’s NatWest pleads guilty to money laundering failings

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LONDON (Reuters) -NatWest pleaded guilty on Thursday to failing to prevent the laundering of nearly 400 million pounds ($544 million), the first bank in Britain to admit to such an offence.

NatWest, which is 55% taxpayer owned after a 45 billion pound plus state bailout during the financial crisis, indicated guilty pleas in a London court to three offences of not adequately monitoring customer accounts between 2012 and 2016.

“The facts of the case are complex, the likely sentence is a very large fine,” a lawyer for the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which prosecuted the case against NatWest, told Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

NatWest said in a statement it will take a provision in its third quarter results next month in anticipation of the fine.

The FCA alleged NatWest failed to monitor suspect activity by a client that deposited about 365 million pounds in its accounts over five years, of which 264 million was in cash.

But it said it would not take action against any current or former employees and the bank said it was not anticipating any other authority investigating this conduct.

The criminal action, first announced by the FCA in March, is the first against a bank under a 2007 money laundering law.

“We deeply regret that NatWest failed to adequately monitor and therefore prevent money laundering by one of our customers,” NatWest CEO Alison Rose said in a statement.

A sentencing hearing will take place at a higher Crown Court, possibly around Dec. 7, Westminster Magistrates’ Court was told.

The FCA action is a blow to Rose’s drive to rehabilitate the bank’s image, including rebranding the group from the scandal-tainted Royal Bank of Scotland (NYSE:RBS_old_old) banner last year.

($1 = 0.7356 pounds)

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