The British government says that foreign firms owning property in the UK will be required to declare their assets publicly in the latest move to prevent money-laundering. Companies must in future be registered if they hold property in the country or intend to bid for government contracts.
Prime minister David Cameron announced the move as world leaders gathered in London for a summit aimed at escalating action to tackle the problem of money laundering as part of a wider campaign against global corruption.
The government said that the proposed register of foreign companies owning UK property would include those that had already bought there as well as those seeking to buy. It estimated that around 100,000 properties in England and Wales are currently owned by foreign companies; of which more than 44,000 are in London.
The register would ensure that “corrupt individuals and countries will no longer be able to move, launder and hide illicit funds through London’s property market, and will not benefit from our public funds”.
Reports suggest that Cameron will also announce plans at the summit for setting up an anti-corruption co-ordination centre in London and imposing a wider corporate offence for executives who take no action to prevent fraud or money laundering inside their companies.
“Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of our problems in the world today,” he wrote in an article for UK daily The Guardian. “It destroys jobs and holds back growth, costing the world economy billions of pounds every year.
“It traps the poorest in the most desperate poverty as corrupt governments around the world siphon off funds and prevent hard-working people from getting the revenues and benefits of growth that are rightfully theirs.”
Cameron has previously spoken on the need to tackle abuses of the financial system. In a speech last year, he declared: “I’m determined that the UK must not become a safe haven for corrupt money from around the world.”
However, a lengthy article in business daily the Financial Times suggests that this may have already happened. Entitled ‘Dark money: London’s dirty secret’, the piece by reporter Tom Burgis suggests that by the time of the 2008 financial crisis it was already evident that the UK capital was becoming a global hub for illicit finance.
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