New govt register brought in to root out UK property money launderers

The government has brought in a new register today designed to root out elites attempting to hide gains made through UK property.

The Register of Overseas Entities will require anonymous foreign companies owning or seeking to buy UK land to reveal their true owners, which the government hopes will ensure that criminals cannot hide behind secretive chains of shell companies.

According to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the reforms will support government efforts to root out Russian oligarchs using UK land to hide illicit wealth.

From today, any foreign company wishing to buy UK property will have to identify its beneficial owner and present verified information to Companies House before any application to the UK’s land registries can be made. Overseas entities that already own land in the UK that is in scope will have a six-month transitional period, starting today, to register their beneficial owners or managing officers.

To ensure criminals are “targeted effectively”, the BEIS stated, the register applies retrospectively to property bought since January 1999 in England and Wales, and since December 2014 in Scotland. Foreign companies that do not comply with the new obligations could face criminal sanctions, including fines of up to £2,500 per day or a prison sentence of up to five years.

Business Minister, Lord Callanan, said: “We have been clear that the UK is a place for legitimate business only, and to ensure we are free of corrupt elites with suspicious wealth, we need to know who owns what.

“By getting this first of its kind register up and running at breakneck speed, we are lifting the curtain and cracking down on those criminals attempting to hide their illicitly obtained wealth.”

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