Universities are accused of aiding money launderers in move branded a ‘welcome mat for kleptocrats’


Universities have been accused of aiding money launderers after letting students from ‘high-risk’ countries pay £52million of fees in cash.

The paper money from students was accepted by at least 49 universities in the UK spanning the past five years, with China noted as the country whose students paid the most cash. 

Essex University received £5.4million in notes, followed by Manchester University at £5million, Surrey at £3.2million, Wolverhampton at £2.8million and Nottingham at £1.8million.

Security experts branded the move a ‘welcome mat for kleptocrats’, saying universities that accept cash are highly at risk of concealing the proceeds of crime. 

Essex University (pictured above) received £5.4million in cash from students. The paper money was accepted by at least 49 universities in the UK spanning the past five years

Essex University (pictured above) received £5.4million in cash from students. The paper money was accepted by at least 49 universities in the UK spanning the past five years

Surrey University, above, accepted £3.2million in cash. Since 2015, UK universities accepted £7.7million from Chinese students, followed by £1.8million from Indian students

Surrey University, above, accepted £3.2million in cash. Since 2015, UK universities accepted £7.7million from Chinese students, followed by £1.8million from Indian students

Durham University also took £440,000, with £200,000 being paid by Chinese students, and Strathclyde University in Glasgow received £700,000 in cash.

Since 2015, universities accepted £7.7million from Chinese students, followed by £1.8million from Indian students, £1.2million from Pakistani students and £1.5million from Nigerian students, according to The Times‘ freedom of information request.

Matthew Page, a fellow at international affairs think tank Chatham House, said: ‘Any educational institution that accepts cash payments is essentially putting out a welcome mat for the world’s kleptocrats and money launderers.

‘Universities that accept cash are at high risk of laundering the proceeds of crime, corruption and other illicit activities.’

Chris Greany, an ex-national coordinator for economic crime, said: ‘It is known that cash payments from many of the countries mentioned here are sometimes linked to money laundering and other criminal enterprises, so cash-based payments need proper scrutiny and accountability, but there is no good reason for them at all.’ 

He questioned why cash payments are still acceptable for universities, pointing out that bank notes can no longer be used to buy a car, flight or hotel room.

In 2019, the niece of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was forced to give up the contents of her UK bank account after receiving £150,000 from relatives while studying in London.

Investigators found that Aniseh Chawkat, aged 22 at the time, who rented a flat in the capital for more than £60,000 per year, benefited from 56 cash deposits into her Barclays account in 2017 and 2018. 

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Ms Chawkat was not personally accused of any wrongdoing. 

The National Crime Agency (NCA) discovered that the payments were made at branches of the bank across England, as a way of getting around EU sanctions to restrict funds from the Syrian regime. 

Manchester University took £5million in paper money. Security experts branded the move a 'welcome mat for kleptocrats', saying universities that accept cash are highly at risk of concealing the proceeds of crime

Manchester University took £5million in paper money. Security experts branded the move a ‘welcome mat for kleptocrats’, saying universities that accept cash are highly at risk of concealing the proceeds of crime

Wolverhampton University accepted £2.8million in cash. Chris Greany, an ex-national coordinator for economic crime, questioned why cash payments are still acceptable for universities

Wolverhampton University accepted £2.8million in cash. Chris Greany, an ex-national coordinator for economic crime, questioned why cash payments are still acceptable for universities

And in the same year, the ex-Moldovan prime minister’s son was ordered to hand over almost £500,000 found in three different bank accounts of suspected dirty money.

The National Crime Agency froze the accounts of Luca Filat, then 22 and a business student at City University, in 2018 following an investigation into his father, Vlad Filat, who was jailed for nine years in 2016 for embezzling £650million.  

On the UK Government’s website, HMRC states: ‘Money laundering means exchanging money or assets that were obtained criminally for money or other assets that are ‘clean’. 

‘The clean money or assets do not have an obvious link with any criminal activity. Money laundering also includes money that’s used to fund terrorism, however it’s obtained.’ 

Referring to the sector of businesses that are covered by the Money Laundering Regulations, it adds: ‘The regulations apply to a number of different business sectors, including accountants, financial service businesses, estate agents and solicitors. 

‘Every business covered by the regulations must be monitored by a supervisory authority. Your business may already be supervised, for example, because you’re authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or belong to a professional body like the Law Society. 

‘If not, and your business falls into one of 7 business sectors, you’ll need to register with HMRC.’

In a statement, Manchester University said: ‘The University of Manchester stopped accepting cash as a payment method for tuition fees in November 2019. 

‘Prior to that, on very limited occasions, we did accept this form of payment but they represented less than 0.5 per cent of our direct receipts. We took all necessary precautions to ensure all financial guidelines and regulations were followed.’

Professor Claire O’Malley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global), at Durham University, said: ‘Our international students form a vital part of the Durham University community and are integral to our position as a globally networked university.

‘Each year a small number of students do opt to pay their fees in cash. Our procedures regarding the acceptance of cash are in keeping with the UK Money Laundering Regulations, which require that we keep a record of all single transactions in cash of £2,000 or more. As per the regulations a form is also completed to detail the cash received.

‘Durham is proud to be a global University and we are committed to welcoming students from all countries to benefit from, and contribute to, our world-leading teaching and research.’

In a statement, Wolverhampton University said it has not taken cash payments since March last year due to the pandemic and is ‘not envisaging a return’ to taking them in the future.

Gary Butler, the University’s Chief Financial Officer, said: ‘The University has rigorous procedures and policies in place to ensure that financial regulations are strictly followed and adhered to at all times.

‘Historically, a small percentage of students, mostly International from countries like India and China, but also some UK based students, have preferred to pay fees with cash. All customer due diligence checks at enrolment stage in relation to knowing the identity of our students, comply with money laundering regulations.

‘The total amount of cash payments represents 0.2% of the total fee payments we have received over the period mentioned.

‘In the past, cash payments were only accepted in person at the Cashiers Office based in the Central Finance Office at Wolverhampton City Campus. Cashiers followed a rigorous process including checking the identity of all persons making cash payments to ensure that cash was only received for registered students. 

‘Cash would also be checked to ensure that notes were genuine and undamaged – any suspicions would be reported in line with the University’s Money Laundering Policy.

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MailOnline has reached out to the other universities for comment. 

Syrian ruler al-Assad’s niece who received £150,000 from relatives while studying in London loses the £25,000 in her UK bank account because it breached sanctions law

The niece of Syria President Bashar al-Assad who received £150,000 from relatives while studying in London was forced to give up the contents of her UK bank account in 2019.

Investigators found that Aniseh Chawkat, then 22, who rented a flat in the capital for more than £60,000 per year, benefited from 56 cash deposits into her Barclays account in 2017 and 2018.

The National Crime Agency discovered that the payments were made at branches of the bank across England, as a way of getting around EU sanctions to restrict funds from the Syrian regime.

Chawkat’s father Assef Shawkat was the Syrian deputy Minister of Defence between 2011 and his death in 2012, and both her mother Bushra al-Assad and uncle, the Syrian President, are subject to international sanctions.

Investigators found that Aniseh Chawkat, 22, (pictured left, with brother and sister Bassel and Beshui) benefited from 56 cash deposits into her Barclays account in 2017 and 2018

Investigators found that Aniseh Chawkat, 22, (pictured left, with brother and sister Bassel and Beshui) benefited from 56 cash deposits into her Barclays account in 2017 and 2018

Rob MacArthur, from the NCA’s international corruption unit, said at the time: ‘Our investigation also gives some insight into the complexity of tackling illicit finance.

‘Innocuous deposits into UK high street banks can ultimately be derived from wealth accumulated by individuals subject to international sanctions.’

Chawkat’s UK bank account, which contained £24,668.24, was frozen in November 2018 and in 2019 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court the NCA’s application for her to forfeit the money was not opposed.

She was not personally accused of any wrongdoing.

Rachael Herbert, NCA head of threat response, previously said: ‘Contravention of sanctions undermines the integrity of the UK financial system.

‘The sum in this instance may not be vast, but our identification and pursuit of it underlines our commitment to supporting wider UK efforts against sanctions evasion.’

A Barclays spokesman added: ‘We have worked with and supported the NCA with this investigation and welcome the outcome of these proceedings.’



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