The National Association of Estate Agents has teamed up with a campaigning anti-corruption body to call for four major changes to the sales and purchase process in a bid to combat money-laundering.
In one of the association’s first major statements on the issue since the Channel 4 From Russia With Cash documentary, a statement issued today says that in trying to “stop our property market being used to launder corrupt and criminal money and to bring transparency and confidence to the market” it wants:
- all foreign companies to be as transparent as UK companies over their ultimate beneficial ownership if they wish to hold property titles in the UK;
- anti-money laundering checks should be carried out by estate agents on the purchaser, not just the seller, of high-value property;
- estate agents who break the rules and support criminal money laundering should face “meaningful punishment and sanctions”; and
- support for the property industry to ensure that estate agents adhere to anti-money laundering regulations.
In July the government committed to tackling corrupt money in UK property, but it has yet to publish plans or a timeline for consultations on providing more transparency over foreign and offshore ownership of UK property.
“The recent documentary From Russia with Cash demonstrated that there is still not absolute clarity in relation to anti-money laundering among those in the property sector, despite the very clear legislation in place and regular training and updates from within the industry. It is now time to step up the level of scrutiny that the sector comes under to ensure that a small minority of agents do not support criminal activity and those that do are appropriately sanctioned“ says NAEA managing director Mark Hayward.
Nick Maxwell, Head of Advocacy and Research at Transparency International - which has issued the four demands jointly with the NAEA - says: “The rhetoric from the Prime Minister about stopping the flow of corrupt capital coming into the UK has been very strong, but now is the time for real action. The veil of secrecy over UK property ownership needs to be lifted to ensure the UK is no longer a safe haven for dirty cash and we look forward to working with the Government to this end.”
The NAEA/Transparency International statement claims that “dirty cash is very likely to be increasing house prices and – ultimately – stopping ordinary, honest people getting into the property market.”
It claims anonymous offshore companies hold the titles to over 35,000 properties in London and, specifically, almost one in 10 properties in Westminster. “Using these companies to hide the true owners of a property is vital for criminals wishing to hide their money” says the statement.