Press release | July 18, 2019

Global Witness to Tory leadership candidates: Do not derail property ownership transparency

18th July 2019, London - Global Witness, the anti-corruption NGO, is today calling on Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to commit to bring in legislation that would finally reveal the true owners of overseas companies purchasing UK property.

The Government has today published its response to a joint parliamentary committee that scrutinised the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill in May this year. The Government has reaffirmed its support for a public register naming the individuals behind overseas companies buying UK property and has stated that it will look to tighten up proposals to verify, sanction, exempt individuals and ensure the register’s compatibility with the UK’s register of trusts. 

Global Witness investigations have repeatedly shown how criminals and corrupt politicians use the UK property market to conceal or clean dirty cash - hiding behind anonymous companies based in secretive tax havens.

A register lifting this anonymity was promised by the UK Government more than three years ago at the Anti-Corruption Summit and has cross-party support, but legislation has still yet to be tabled.

Naomi Hirst, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness, said:

“It’s welcome news that we are now one step closer to finally revealing who really owns so much of the UK and on the face of it the Government's consultation response ticks most of the right boxes. After more than three years of promises the message is simple - get on with it.”

“The next Prime Minister will be the third since the pledge to clean up the property market was made and we call on both candidates to close the door on the dirty money flooding into the UK and commit to bringing in legislation at the start of the  next session. ”

“Until we have transparency in the UK property market everyday that passes is another in which the corrupt can use our homes as safety deposit boxes for dirty cash.”  

Global Witness research has previously found 87,000 properties - worth up to £100bn - in England and Wales bought through anonymous companies registered in tax havens. Two in five of these properties are in London. 

In 2015, in one of many similar cases, we revealed how the mystery owner of a £147 million London property empire owned via a network of offshore companies could be linked to a former Kazakh secret police chief accused of murder, torture and money-laundering.

In June this year, we uncovered how tens of thousands of UK leaseholders are at the mercy of unscrupulous freeholders who hide behind anonymous companies, making it almost impossible for leaseholders to communicate directly with their freeholders and raise critical safety concerns.  



Notes to editor:

Details on the Joint Committee on the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill

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