David Cameron to launch register of ultimate owners of property
The rich and wealthy using offshore companies to hold companies and concealing their identity will no longer be able to hide. Over 100,000 properties in the UK are held in offshore companies and their ultimate owners will now be listed in a new register as revealed by David Cameron at an international summit on corruption.
Under the proposals, any company wishing to buy property in the UK will have to join a new public register of beneficial ownership beforehand. Companies that already own property will also have to complete the register, as will any business wishing to apply for a government contract.
“If enacted and enforced, this is a great move,” said Chido Dunn, a lawyer at campaign group Global Witness. “The government has delivered on what it set out to do on property.”
This could be a major development in the fight against financial crime. Last July, Donald Toon, the director of economic crime at the National Crime Agency, told the Guardian London had become the “money laundering capital of the world” because of the huge investment in property by opaque companies based in secretive tax havens.
But the change will also affect people who may have a legitimate reason to remain under the radar, for example to protect their privacy.
“Emma Watson is a good example,” said Bowes. “She has a right to privacy, but overall, if you look at the balance of risk, the need for transparency outweighs these privacy issues,” he said.
The Harry Potter actress said this week she set up an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands to protect her safety. Watson’s name was found in a public database of individuals and entities that have alleged links to Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers leak.
Watson reportedly bought a London home using her offshore company, in order to keep her address private and protect her from stalkers.
Tom Bill, head of residential research at the estate agent Knight Frank, said: “In a minority of cases of offshore ownership, anonymity is the main attraction, and for those people this measure may make them think twice about buying.”
He said there had already been double-digit falls in asking prices in prime and super-prime (over £10m) properties in the capital. Across all properties in Knightsbridge, sale prices had fallen 7% in the last year, largely driven by the 2014 increase in stamp duty on the most expensive homes from 7% to 15%.