Monday, February 01, 2016

The UK - The Criminal's Pardise

Over the past six years, at least £100 billion of property across London has been purchased by overseas companies which have usually been registered in tax havens to hide the buyers’ identities, the Evening Standard reported in October 2015. Official data seen by the Standard shows that since 2008 there have been 27,989 purchases of homes, buildings and land in the capital by shadowy corporate structures usually registered in tax havens to hide the buyers’ identities. Two-thirds of the purchases were made by companies registered in just four “British” tax havens — Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands, according to the Land Registry data obtained by Private Eye

Donald Toon, director of Britain’s National Crime Agency, in July 2015, said overseas criminals were "distorting the market" by sequestering their assets in the UK.
"I believe the London property market has been skewed by laundered money," Toon told The Times, as cited by The Telegraph. "Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK.”

"Today the City of London (together with Wall Street) is the world’s largest laundry for dirty money from the drug trade," Roberto Saviano, author of the book Gomorrah told the UK’s Independent newspaper. "The current housing bubble in London is fueled by criminal money from mafia organizations," Saviano says. "Properties in the center of London are being bought with laundered cash."

Even Cameron expressed deep concern that luxury properties, primarily in London, are being purchased by foreigners through opaque shell companies to launder dirty money. Cameron said offshore firms own a £122 billion share of the UK’s property market, and many of these “high value” properties are bought through secretive holding companies nestled in tax havens. In London, roughly 36,342 properties have been purchased through clandestine front companies in offshore tax havens. Favored locations include the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man and Jersey. Britain’s wealthiest borough, Westminster, has the highest proportion of properties held offshore (almost 10 percent), while Kensington and Chelsea follows closely (7.3 percent).

Transparency International (TI) UK. published in March 2015 a study which warned the UK had become “a safe haven for corrupt capital stolen from around the world.” The Metropolitan Police said at the time more than £180 million (US$276 million) worth of British property had been subject to criminal investigation since 2004 as potential proceeds from corruption. Detectives added this figure was merely the tip of the iceberg.

There is a ridiculous presumption that criminals follow the rules,” offshore tax expert Mark Davies told the BBC. “If Mr Big wants to hide laundered money and he wants this to remain hidden, he will simply have someone else named as the owner of the property.”

Henry Pryor, a buying agent for Britain’s luxury property market, said the government’s promised transparency in property ownership wouldn’t stop fraudsters from hiding their assets. "If criminals can get access to these assets - and trade them overseas - it makes it very difficult for the authorities to understand exactly where the ownership really lies. That remains the problem," he told the BBC.

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