DAVID Cameron will today announce tough new measures to stop foreign crooks using London's high-end property market to launder dirty money. The Prime Minister will commit to unmask the shady web of overseas companies used by dubious characters to mask their identities when concluding multi-million pound property deals in Britain.
The announcement comes just a week after it emerged the ownership of 221b Baker Street - home to the fictional super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes - is linked to a brutal former secret police chief accused of murder and money-laundering.
The revelation sparked calls for a major probe into the capital's top property dealings, and Mr Cameron is set to respond today by announcing a series of wide-reaching reforms.
The Government will launch a major consultation on ways to make property ownership by foreign companies more transparent in a move which could eventually see the names behind some of the country's most exclusive addresses unmasked.
Mr Cameron will also commit to publishing Land Registry data so that the public can see which foreign companies own land and property titles in England and Wales.
The move was tonight welcomed by campaign group Global Witness, which has fought to expose the dirty dealings behind Britain's biggest property sales.
Chido Dunn, of the group, said: "We welcome David Cameron’s announcement to clamp down on corruption in the UK property market.
"Our recent investigations have revealed corrupt officials use London houses as safe havens for their stolen loot. What’s more, they often hide their identities behind layers of offshore companies.
"What the UK needs now is to shine a light on who really owns property in this country.”
David Cameron is expected to announce a tough crackdown on property deals today
As part of the proposals, ministers will also examine whether any overseas company wanting to bid for a Government contract should be forced to reveal details of its ownership.
Such a move would follow in the footsteps of the World Bank, which last week made a similar commitment relation to companies participating in Bank-financed contracts.
The announcement comes after Global Witness claimed that huge swathes of Baker Street are owned by an unknown figure linked to the dead Khazak diplomat Rakhat Aliyev.
One of the properties allegedly linked to the notorious businessman includes 221 Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes would have lived if his fictional apartment of 221b existed.
Aliyev - known as “Sugar” because of his vast holdings in the global sugar trade - was being probed by several European governments over alleged money-laundering and corruption at the time of his death.
He was found hanged in his Austrian prison cell whilst awaiting trial over the murder of two bankers, whose bodies were found dumped in barrels back in his homeland.
Campaigneers claim between 2008 and 2010 four different UK companies – all controlled by the same parent company in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – bought properties worth £147m in central London.
All four companies strongly denied the claims, stating that Aliyev was at no time either the ultimate beneficial owner or controlling party in any of them.
The exclusive address was the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and is next door to a museum
Amongst the addresses under the microscope is the world-famous 221b Baker Street
Earlier this year top estate agents in London were caught out offering to help foreign criminals launder money through Britain's most expensive properties.
An undercover investigation found experts from some of the capital's best known firms were prepared to seal the deal on multi-million pound mansions even after being told the money to pay for them was the proceeds of crime.
Estate agents are required by law to call in the authorities if they believe that money-laundering may be involved in a property sale.
However, journalists posing as a corrupt Russian politician and his girlfriend found many were willing to ignore where the money was coming from in order to complete the sale.
The reporters viewed five mansions in central London ranging from £3m pounds to £15m, telling the property agents quite openly that the cash for the purchase was being made illegally.
Ms Dunn said: “There is an urgent need for transparency in the UK’s property market and its system of company ownership. Our research shows that the housing market is a big blind spot in the UK’s anti-corruption fight, and that has dire consequences.
"Some of the Gaddafi family’s stolen loot ended up in London – a famous example but far from a one-off. Unless we know who is behind these companies and where their money has come, the cash will keep pouring in."
Journalists posing as a corrupt Russian MP snared London estate agents into offering them help
At least £122billion worth of property in England and Wales is now owned by companies registered offshore.
In total, 75 per cent of properties whose owners are under investigation for corruption have used legal loopholes to keep their identities secret.
This week a leading crime fighter said that foreign criminals are pushing up British house prices by laundering billions of pounds in expensive property.
National Crime Agency director Donald Toon said he was alarmed by the number of homes registered to complex offshore corporations – some of which have been bought with laundered money.
The Treasury has received a £150 million windfall in the past three months from a tax on properties purchased by companies, trusts and investment funds, rather than individuals – a figure that supports Mr Toon's claim.
When the tax was first introduced in 2013/14, it raised £100 million from 3,990 houses.
Mr Toon said: "I believe the London property market has been skewed by laundered money.
"Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK."
www.express.co.uk, Tue, Jul 28, 2015