LONDON: The UK government has unveiled a plan to introduce the world's first public register of overseas companies and other legal entities that own property in the UK, in a move expected to increase transparency and curb money laundering.
The UK will become the first country to have a register showing the real owners of property controlled by overseas companies and other legal entities as part of the proposal unveiled yesterday. "We are committed to protecting the integrity and reputation of the UK property market and this register would be a valuable measure to increase transparency and investor confidence," said UK business minister Margot James.
"The extension of transparency requirements, which UK owners are already subject to, levels the playing field and means we would know who owns and controls UK property wherever they are from," she said.
The government launched its call for evidence this week, asking overseas investors, property and transparency experts for their opinions on how this register could be delivered.
A research project, due to be launched shortly for the UK's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will assess the likely impact of the overseas property register on inward investment and wider corporate transparency.
Donald Toon, Director for Economic Crime at the National Crime Agency said: "Criminals and their money launderers will always seek to hide the true ownership of assets, including property, to frustrate investigations and hold onto the profits of their crimes.
"Greater transparency over the true ownership and control of UK property held in the name of overseas companies will make the UK a less attractive place to launder money and will assist investigators track down and recover the proceeds of crime."
Since 2004, law enforcement investigations into international corruption have identified more than 180 million pounds of property in the UK as the suspected proceeds of corruption, with 75 per cent of those investigated using overseas companies to hide their real owners.
This is a tactic that investigators pursuing high-level money laundering continue to encounter routinely, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy noted. While the government welcomes legitimate foreign investment in the UK, overseas investors in the UK property market have also included criminals laundering the proceeds of crime, it added.