UK: New property register to combat "dirty money"

A new property register has been established in the UK in an effort to combat oligarchs who use the country's booming real estate market to hide illicit funds.

The Register of Overseas Entities will be required by the new Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act to notify Companies House of the ultimate beneficial owners of any foreign companies with UK-owned property before any application to land registries can be submitted.

According to the BBC, businesses that already own land in the UK will be given a six-month grace period to register their beneficial owners. Those who refuse could face fines of up to £2,500 per day or up to five years in prison.

"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," said Lord Callanan, Business Minister.

"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," the official continued. 

Anyone establishing, owning, controlling, or managing a company in the UK will be required to confirm their identity with Companies House under the Economic Crime Bill, which was passed in March 2022.

Six years after being first promised by then-Prime Minister David Cameron, the new register will take effect for property purchases in England and Wales beginning in January 1999 and in Scotland beginning in December 2014.

Additionally, foreign corporations that have sold properties since February 28th, 2022, will need to submit a statement to Companies House.

Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP, criticized the plans, saying they were not the "silver bullet we were promised would stop abuses like money laundering in our real estate sector" and that the register was "more lead balloon."

Oligarchs and organized criminals would "still be able to evade scrutiny and secretly purchase premium London property, such as Highgate mansions or Kensington townhouses," she warned, because the register is "riddled with flaws and loopholes."

"To truly stop the flows of corrupt wealth into our housing market, the government must urgently put in place an open register of the true owners of UK land and property, not just of those owned by companies. Anything less would demonstrate once and for all that this government is truly soft on dirty money,"  she continued.