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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 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy opened a consultation seeking views on the beneficial ownership register on 5 April 2017.

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 Robert Barrington, TI-UK Executive Director, said:

“Knowing who owns houses and land in the UK is fundamental to preventing property being used as a safe haven for corrupt money.  At present, if you are a UK company owning property, you have to declare your ‘beneficial owner’ – it is a gaping hole that overseas companies don’t need to do the same. If this consultation leads to implementation in April 2018, as the Government has promised, it will close a door and strengthen Britain’s defences against money laundering.

“The Government must not give way to the vested interests that will be lobbying to keep property ownership secret, or allow the Brexit discussions to see this being bumped off the list for action. This consultation is an important step in the UK fulfilling its international commitments and protecting its citizens against corrupt capital flows.”