The UK government has launched a new register to uncover Russian oligarchs and other kleptocrats using UK land to hide their illicit wealth, by "flushing out" corrupt elites laundering "dirty money" through UK property.
The new register aims to help tackle the estimated £100bn ($122bn) a year of illegal financing that the National Crime Agency believes is channelled through Britain annually.
From Monday, any new purchases involving anonymous foreign owners or buyers of UK property will be required to reveal their identities to ensure that criminals cannot hide behind secretive chains of shell firms.
Under the new rules, companies will need to provide verified information of beneficial owners or buyers to Companies House before any application to the UK’s land registries can be made or risk tough fines, or up to five years in prison.
Organisations that fail to declare their beneficial owner will face restrictions over selling their property and up to five years in prison. There are also fines of up to £2,500 a day for failure to make accurate disclosures.
Those overseas entities that already own properties bought in the past 23 years will have a six-month grace period, starting today, to register their beneficial owners or managing officers.
"To ensure criminals are targeted effectively, the register applies retrospectively to property bought since January 1999 in England and Wales, and since December 2014 in Scotland," the Department for Business, Energy, Industry & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said.
Additionally, any overseas entity that has disposed of property since 28 February 2022 is required to provide a statement to Companies House.
The register, first announced in February 2022 as part of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, is part of the UK’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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."
Companies House chief executive Louise Smyth, added: "The launch of this new register is a significant milestone in the history of Companies House and marks a turning point in our transformation as we look to play a much greater role in tackling economic crime."
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