Research reveals 'London's secret property scandal'

By agency reporter
February 1, 2018

Actor James Norton, currently starring in the BBC Sunday night drama McMafia, has joined anti-corruption NGO Global Witness at an event in Parliament to launch new research detailing the number of anonymously owned properties in the UK.

The research shows that around 85,000 properties across the UK are owned by companies incorporated in UK tax havens. This includes over 10,000 in the London Borough of Westminster, almost 6,000 in Kensington and Chelsea and over 2,000 in Camden.

In 2015, David Cameron promised to introduce a property register detailing the ownership of UK property in a bid to tackle corruption. The Government has now said this will not be in place until after 2020.

Global Witness anti-corruption campaigner, Naomi Hirst, said, “Today’s new analysis shows that Westminster is at the heart of the UK’s dirty money problem. In the face of an unprecedented housing crisis it is staggering that Westminster alone is home to over 10,000 secretly owned properties. The government first promised to reveal the true owners of UK properties with a public register back in 2015. But their current plans will allow the criminal and corrupt another three years to do what they want with our property market – that’s three years too many. Our capital has the potential to be flooded with dirty money and we need urgent action to stop it.”

The event was also used to highlight how the themes in the BBC’s McMafia show are based on events that are all too real – whether that’s tax havens being used to hide and launder criminal money, or politicians, bankers and lawyers working hand-in-hand with criminal gangs to facilitate the movement of drugs, counterfeit goods or trafficked people from country to country with impunity.

Misha Glenny, author of the book McMafia which the BBC series is based on, said, “McMafia takes place in many parts of the world, but we focus the central family in London – there was a reason for that.  And that is because London has become so important in the world of money laundering through the property market, the kind of opulent apartments that the Godman family live in Knightsbridge and Mayfair.  

“But what’s astonishing is that property owned by companies whose beneficial owner we don’t know the identity of are all over London – they are all over the United Kingdom. And the government doesn’t even know who owns these. And these people could be people smugglers, they could be drug runners, they could be gun runners.  They could be corrupt politicians.  They could be people with legitimate reason for keeping quiet for security purposes.  But it’s really appalling that the government doesn’t know who’s investing in London, using tax havens, hiding behind shell companies.”

Global Witness used the event to launch their Secret neighbourhoods - who really owns your London borough? tool which enables individuals to find out how many anonymously owned properties there are in their London borough – or in their region of England and Wales – and tweet their MP. 

As of November 2017: 

  • The top 10 most expensive properties owned by companies in secrecy jurisdictions are worth over £1.5 billion.
  • According to the Land Registry, the most expensive property owned by a company based in a jurisdiction which allows secrecy is 123 Buckingham Palace Road which is worth £215,399,999 and owned by a Jersey-based company
  • The use of companies incorporated in secrecy jurisdictions to purchase property is increasing in some areas. Since 2015 the London borough of Tower Hamlets has seen an 11 per cent increase in the number of properties owned by companies incorporated by secrecy jurisdictions, meanwhile Greater Manchester has experienced a 10 per cent increase.

* The data published in the Secret neighbourhoods - who really owns your London borough?  tool is based on a Global Witness analysis of Land Registry data accurate as of 1 January 2018. A "secretly owned” property is a freehold or leasehold title that is owned by at least one company incorporated in a jurisdiction with a score of 60 or above in the Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index 2015. Members of the public can access the tool here

* Global Witness


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