Boris Johnson promises UK property register to expose kleptocrat’s money | Immovable

As the government moves to pressure Russian oligarchs following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Boris Johnson has vowed to rush plans for a new public register, revealing the ultimate owners of properties across the UK. United.

The government had previously failed to act, despite the extensive offshore leak known as the Pandora Papers last year revealing details of 1,500 UK properties held by secretive offshore companies, some of which were linked to Russian figures.

Data showed the family of Russian oligarch Mikhail Gutseriev – who was placed under UK, EU and US sanctions last year – had more than £50million in property in the City and West End of London (although representatives of his family insisted he had no interest in the assets).

In total, an estimated £170 billion of UK property is held overseas, much of it anonymously: whether to avoid publicity, tax or worse. Many of these anonymous properties are concentrated in London – particularly in Westminster and Kensington.

Making their ultimate owners public is intended to help law enforcement track what Johnson called “dirty money” – but will also increase transparency for civil society groups and journalists.

The new register will apply retrospectively to property purchased up to 20 years ago in England and Wales, and from 2014 in Scotland. Entities that fail to declare the beneficial owner will face restrictions on selling the property, and people who break the rules could face up to five years in prison.

It’s far from a new idea: the UK has had a publicly available register of beneficial owners for companies since 2016 – the Register of Persons with Significant Control.

The same approach is gradually being extended to Britain’s overseas territories, after intensive campaigning by a cross-party backbench alliance, including former Conservative development secretary Andrew Mitchell and former Labor minister Margaret Hodge.

The long-awaited property registry is an unfinished business from a crackdown that began nearly a decade ago.

When the UK chaired the G8 in 2013, David Cameron told the world’s elite at Davos, the annual Swiss shindig for business leaders and politicians, that governments should “put the spotlight on corporate ownership , land ownership and the source and destination of money”. .

He spoke of wanting to tackle the “roving caravan of lawyers, accountants and financial gurus” who support the hiding of vast sums of wealth.

Three years later, in 2016, Cameron hosted an anti-corruption summit in London, where he announced his intention to introduce a property register.

“The new foreign company register will mean that corrupt individuals and countries will no longer be able to move, launder and conceal illicit funds through the London property market, and will not benefit from our public funds,” a press release from the UK said at the time. government.

At the time, Cameron was questioned about whether there was a conflict of interest between his aggressive tax evasion crackdown and a Panama-based investment trust his father had set up that had no to pay UK tax on its profits. Cameron once held shares in the trust but sold them in 2010 because he said he “didn’t want anyone to say you have other agendas or vested interests”.

Since then, however, successive administrations have dragged their feet and the measure was never signed into law – although Theresa May’s government went so far as to include it in a bill in 2018.

Robert Barrington, professor of anti-corruption practice at the University of Sussex, says there are two possible explanations. “One is that the government didn’t prioritize it, because of Brexit etc. The other is that it was blocked, because of interest.

In the six years since the plan was first mooted, he says he’s increasingly leaned towards the second of them. “I don’t know if it’s the Treasury, the City, the oligarchs who make donations to political parties; but there is a blockage in the system.

However, whatever internal opposition may have existed seems to have been abruptly swept away by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting desire, as Johnson said last week, to “pull Russia out of the global economy, piece by piece”.

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Edward L. Robinett