The UK's National Crime Agency said on 24 January that it handled more than 900,000 reports of possible money laundering and terrorist financing in the financial year ending in March 2022, a 21% rise over the previous 12 months. 

Its 2022 Suspicious Activity Report (SARs) Annual Report, which features statistics covering the years 2020-21 and 2021-22, revealed that almost 75% of the reports were generated from banks, while other financial institutions accounted for 13.5%.

The agency further said that £305.7m was denied to suspected criminals as a result of Defence Against Money Laundering (DAML) requests - a 120.6% increase on the £138.6m denied in 2020-21.

SARs are submitted to the NCA by individuals working in regulated sectors such as banking, legal and financial services, where they suspect that transactions are being used to launder money or conceal criminal activity.

The UK agency said financial and predicate crimes intelligence provided by SARs has proved to be invaluable as criminals sought to take advantage of the pandemic to advance their illicit enterprises.

More recently, as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, SARs have provided increasingly important information on money laundering linked to sanctioned individuals and their associated entities.

In 2022, the NCA set up the new Combatting Kleptocracy Cell (CKC), with a remit that includes the investigation of criminal sanctions evasion and high end money laundering.

SARs are an important component of the information coming into the cell, and the UK Financial Intelligence Unit (UKFIU) - which receives, processes and assesses SARs on behalf of the NCA - now has a dedicated team to work as part of the CKC.

Under the SARs Reform Project the UKFIU has undertaken a significant transformation since the last report with new methods of working and new teams. This has included an uplift in staff to over 150 and measures are in place to reach the target of 201 by the end of the next financial year, driving increased analysis and engagement within the SARs regime.

Vince O'Brien, head of the UKFIU said: "SARs are vital to the fight against money laundering, illicit finance and wider criminality.

"Major improvements to the UKFIU through the SARs Reform Project, including the establishment of dedicated analytical teams to support specific operational requirements such as those of the Combatting Kleptocracy Cell, and further enhancements rolling out over the next 24 months, will ensure we maximise the intelligence value derived from SARs, driving greater impact on economic and other crime, and helping to keep the UK public and businesses safe."