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Beneficial Ownership of Foreign Companies

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Estimated Completion, April 2018

The UK is offering safe haven to corrupt individuals, their associates and assets, allowing non-UK companies to anonymously purchase property and participate in public contracting. Evidence suggests that the majority of grand corruption cases involve shell companies as the vehicle of choice for laundering illicit wealth. For this reason, introducing transparency around beneficial ownership of foreign companies will be vital to fight corruption and the multitude of negative impacts it brings at home and abroad. The original commitment was to introduce primary legislation on the register by April 2018. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy opened a consultation seeking views on the beneficial ownership register on 5 April 2017, but in January 2018 the UK Government announced that a formal Bill would not be introduced until 2019. The register is now scheduled to go live in early 2021.

This symbol indicates that although progress has been made on this pledge, we consider its delivery to be unsatisfactory


overseas companies beneficial ownership register

THE PROBLEM

There’s evidence that the UK property market has become a safe haven for corrupt money stolen from around the world, facilitated by the laws which allow UK property to be owned by secret offshore companies.

We’re not talking about just one or two secret homes. Transparency International UK research shows that 36,342 London properties are owned by companies registered in offshore havens. Not even the Land Registry knows who owns these homes.

Over 75% of properties under investigation for corruption in a recent ten year period used offshore corporate secrecy, demonstrating that this is a clear vehicle for money laundering.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUMMIT

In the Summit communique, leaders agreed to

“…take steps to eliminate loopholes that allow corruption to thrive through the misuse of these entities, and work, in accordance with national law, to ensure a level playing field between foreign and domestic companies in respect of requirements to provide beneficial ownership information.”

At the Anti-Corruption Summit, the UK committed to “establish a public register of company beneficial ownership information for foreign companies who already own or buy property in the UK, or who bid on central government contracts.” Then-Prime Minister David Cameron said that public registers of beneficial ownership information were the “gold standard”, and every country should ultimately aim to have them.

This commitment was also reiterated in the UK’s Open Government Partnership 2016 – 2018 National Action Plan, and legislation is scheduled to be passed on the register by April 2018.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE?

The UK opened a call for evidence on a beneficial ownership register to increase the transparency of overseas investment in property and public contracts in April 2017. As of early 2018, the results of the consultation are yet to be published.

In January 2018 the UK Government announced that the UK will not put forward primary legislation on introducing a public register, revealing the true owners of overseas companies buying UK property, until at least summer 2019. This means the Government will miss its original deadline of April 2018.

As Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at TI-UK, said (17 January 2018):

“Although I welcome a clear timetable being laid out, I am disappointed by the significant delay to primary legislation given the fact that the policy has cross party support, and has already undergone two consultations. The longer we have to wait for this register, the longer corrupt individuals will be able to use the UK property market to hide their wealth.”