International kleptocrats laundering billions of dollars through the UK property market can expect a crackdown under new legislation recently passed in the country.
INTERNATIONAL kleptocrats laundering billions of dollars through the UK property market can expect a crackdown under new legislation recently passed in the country.
The Criminal Finances Bill is designed to target the amount of illegal money flowing in that is estimated to be worth between GBP10 and 100 billion ($17 billion — $173 billion) each year.
The new bill contains two critical steps. The first allows authorities to slap “unexplained wealth orders” on those who for example, have low official salaries but are able to buy multi-million pound properties, forcing them to prove the source of the funds or have their assets seized.
The second allows the government to claim property and assets of those guilty of human rights abuses anywhere in the world and revoke their UK visa.
A third provision that would have created a public register of ownership in British offshore territories like the Virgin Islands did not make the final bill. Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said “we are winning the argument but it’s an incredible struggle every time.”
“Particularly now in the UK post Brexit there is a reluctance to offend anybody. Even the BVI [British Virgin Islands] in case we can get some trade out of them … it’s a nonsense. We should not be defending corruption, money laundering, evasion and avoidance and criminal activity in the name of trade.”
The Committee for Legislation Against Money Laundering in Properties by Kelptocrats (ClampK) founder Roman Borisovich said London has the unfortunate title of being the money laundering capital of the world.
He has previously made a documentary called From Russia With Cash, in which he posed as a Russian MP and bragged about using state funds to buy properties in order to expose the willingness of real estate agents to turn a blind eye. He said the new law will not only crackdown on kleptocrats themselves but also the businesspeople who facilitate the transactions and derive “insane profits form kleptocracies”.
UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd estimates an average of 10 “unexplained wealth orders” per year will be issued. However Transparency International claims there are up to 2000 properties in central London alone that require explanation.
Nearly one in 10 properties in the central City of Westminster is owned by offshore companies based in places like the British Virgin Islands, Jersey or Guernsey.
It’s calling for MPs to “follow the money” to ensure funds meant for developing nations are not siphoned off into luxury homes in the English capital.
Journalist Luke Harding, who has written extensively on global money laundering including a recent expose, The Laundromat, said he felt ashamed London is home to the kind of “mega fraud” that allows such brazen money laundering to take place.
“There’s a whole tier of people, lawyers, agents, real estate people who’ve got very rich from basically servicing kleptocratic cash.”
“Being butlers if you like to kleptocrats, posh English butlers. I find it depressing and I find it vaguely shameful, actually, that we’re in this situation.”