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Government pledges to beef up anti-money laundering elements of new Bill

The government has published its response to an MPs’ committee’s comments on overseas buyers of properties in the UK - and the aim is to tighten the overall anti-money laundering provisions of the legislation.

In May a Parliamentary committee claimed that 160 properties in the UK were owned by “high corruption-risk individuals” and called for more to be done to deter money laundering activities in the real estate industry. 

The Joint Committee on the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill said it welcomed the measure but it insisted more must be done. The committee claimed that between 2004 and 2015 some £180m of UK property was subject to criminal investigation as suspected proceeds of corruption “and this may be just the tip of the iceberg.”

It continued by saying that in 2017 some 160 properties worth over £4 billion were identified as being purchased by high corruption-risk individuals, and 86,000 properties in England Wales had since been identified as owned by companies incorporated in “secrecy jurisdictions” where it is difficult or impossible to establish transparent ownership information.

The committee added that its witnesses suggested a lack of information about anonymous owners, often stood in the way of criminal investigations.

Now the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says it will beef up the Bill as a result of the committee’s recommendations.

These include improving the accuracy of information provided to the anti-money laundering register, increasing Parliamentary scrutiny on exemptions within the Bill; considering possible civil sanctions, and ensuring that Companies House has sufficient resources to more effectively monitor the problem.

Business minister Kelly Tolhurst says: “This legislation is breaking new ground by introducing the world’s first national public register of the beneficial owners of overseas entities owning land. This will enable us to crack down on the laundering of money through UK property, by improving transparency around property ownership in the UK.”

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