International Financial Law Prof Blog

Editor: William Byrnes
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Friday, August 7, 2015

UK Prime Minister Announces Publicly Available Land Registry for Offshore Company Ownership

United Kingdom Prime Minister, his RT Hon. David Cameron, delivered an announcement on requiring publicly available transparency of the land registry for property owned by offshore companies during his speech in Singapore to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.   The relevant aspects are excerpted below -

As the economist Professor Paul Collier has noted, lack of transparency over who owns companies “not only assists tax avoidance, it is the key vehicle for corruption.”

Why? Because when you have companies whose ownership isn’t known you allow a shroud of HM_Treasury_logo.svg Hmrc_logo_altsecrecy behind which people can do bad things, sometimes terrible things, with no accountability. The corrupt, the criminals, the money-launderers – they need anonymous company structures to hide, to move and to access their money. So by lifting off this shroud of secrecy we can expose wrongdoing and dissuade others from going down the same path.

Now this is a challenge for everyone – including ASEAN, including Britain. We too must get our house in order – and we are. And that is why the UK government has legislated to ensure that from next year, Britain will become the first major country to establish a publicly accessible central registry showing who really owns and controls all British companies.

... So I’ll continue to make the case for transparency with international partners – including the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. And I am willing to go further, and take concrete steps to force the pace. And that includes looking at whether we can get foreign companies investing in the UK to step up to the same level of transparency.

Now with £122 billion of property in England and Wales owned by offshore companies we know that some high-value properties – particularly in London – are being bought by people overseas through anonymous shell companies, some of them with plundered or laundered cash. Just last week, there were allegations of links between a former Kazakh secret police chief and a London property portfolio worth nearly £150 million.

I’m determined that the UK must not become a safe haven for corrupt money from around the world. We need to stop corrupt officials or organised criminals using anonymous shell companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property, without being tracked down.

People like convicted Nigerian fraudster James Ibori, who owned property in St John’s Wood, Hampstead, Regent’s Park, Dorset all paid for with money stolen from some of the world’s poorest people. So we have got to find ways to make property ownership by foreign companies much more transparent.

There may be a number of ways we can do this, for example extending what we currently ask of UK companies to foreign companies too. And we will consult on the best way forward.

But as a first step, I have asked the Land Registry to publish this autumn data on which foreign companies own which land and property titles in England and Wales. This will apply to around 100,000 titles held on the Land Register and will show for the first time the full set of titles owned by foreign companies.

And we will also look carefully at the case for insisting that any non-UK company wishing to bid on a contract with the UK government should also publically state who really owns it using the government’s buying power as a if you like, battering ram for greater corporate transparency around the world.

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