NatWest has admitted three counts of failing to properly monitor £365 million ($496 million) deposited into a customer’s account.
It is the first time a financial institution has faced criminal prosecution under anti-money laundering laws in the UK.
Bradford gold merchant Fowler Oldfield is alleged to have received £2m a day in bags of cash as well as allegedly laundering £365m through its NatWest Bank accounts over a five-year period from 2011 to 2016.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said NatWest failed to adhere to the requirements of anti-money laundering legislation in relation to Fowler Oldfield Ltd’s account.
Bankrupt gold dealer James Stunt is one of 13 people charged with money laundering linked to the jewellers, which was shut down after a police raid in 2016.
NatWest faces a fine of up to £240 million.
FCA prosecutor Clare Montgomery QC told Westminster magistrates that when Fowler Oldfield was taken on as a client by NatWest, its predicted turnover was said to be £15 million per annum.
Yet it deposited £365 million over the space of almost five years.
“The turnover of Fowler Oldfield was predicted to be £15 million per annum," she said.
“It was agreed that the bank would not handle cash deposits.
“However, it deposited £365 million, with around £264 million in cash.”
She said that at its height, Fowler Oldfield deposited up to £1.8 million a day.
NatWest chief executive Alison Rose apologised for the bank's failings.
“We deeply regret that NatWest failed to adequately monitor and therefore prevent money laundering by one of our customers between 2012 and 2016," she said.
“NatWest has a vital part to play in detecting and preventing financial crime and we take extremely seriously our responsibility to prevent money laundering by third parties.
“In the years since this case, we have invested significant resources and continue to enhance our efforts to effectively combat financial crime.
“We work tirelessly with colleagues, other banks, industry bodies, law enforcement, regulators and governments to help find collaborative solutions to this shared challenge. These partnerships are crucial to counter the significant and evolving threat of financial crime to society.”
NatWest admitted three offences under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007.
It will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on or before December 8.
NatWest is 55 per cent taxpayer owned after receiving a £45 billion-plus ($61 billion-plus) bailout at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.