Is London the world’s leading money-laundering destination?
Official data has revealed that over 40,000 properties in London are owned by foreign companies, of which 90% are based in tax havens.
The laws in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands mean that the ownership information is concealed.
The result is that there are questions over exactly what the owners of these tens of thousands of London properties are keeping hidden, and why.
The research, by the non-profit group Transparency International, says that Scotland Yard has only investigated purchases of 144 properties since 2004, but also highlights the difficulties the police face in probing dubious property purchases.
“It can take years to unpick the layers of corruption and secrecy which ultimately result in the purchase of UK properties,” the report says.
It adds that Scotland Yard can struggle to gain the support of governments who may be able to help them, or that other countries’ police services are too ill-equipped to offer useful assistance.
The report found that almost one in 10 properties in the City of Westminster (9.3%), 7.3% of properties in Kensington & Chelsea, and 4.5% in the City of London, are owned by companies registered in an offshore secrecy jurisdiction.
According to the Financial Times, there are concerns that high-value London properties are becoming an increasingly attractive means of transmuting illegally begotten funds into usable legal assets.
The paper quotes DCI Jon Benton of the Proceeds of Corruption Unit, who said: “In nearly all the grand corruption cases we investigate, we find . . . proceeds of corruption being used to purchase high-value properties.
“Properties that are purchased with illicit money, which is often stolen from some of the poorest people in the world, are nearly always layered through offshore structures,” he added.
Robert Barrington, executive director of Transparency International, said that the UK has “sleepwalked” into becoming one of the most desirable destinations for corrupt capital in the world.