The government today published plans for a public register of beneficial owners of UK properties owned by an overseas company in a bid to make it more difficult to hide ill-gotten gains in the country.
The register, the first of its kind in the world, will also include a list of the beneficial owners of overseas firms linked with certain government contracts.
Law enforcement agencies have identified more than £180m of UK property linked to suspected proceeds of corruption since 2004, and three-quarters of those investigated were found to be using overseas companies to cover up true ownership.
Meanwhile, a report released by Transparency International UK last month warned the sheer level of investment from corrupt money in London's property market was playing a significant role in the capital's housing crisis.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is running a consultation on the proposed measures and is seeking feedback from the likes of overseas investors and property experts until 15 May.
"We are committed to protecting the integrity and reputation of the UK property market and this register would be a valuable measure to increase transparency and investor confidence," said business minister Margot James. "The extension of transparency requirements, which UK owners are already subject to, levels the playing field and means we would know who owns and controls UK property wherever they are from."
Donald Toon, director for economic crime at the National Crime Agency, added:
Criminals and their money launderers will always seek to hide the true ownership of assets, including property, to frustrate investigations and hold onto the profits of their crimes.
Greater transparency over the true ownership and control of UK property held in the name of overseas companies will make the UK a less attractive place to launder money and will assist investigators track down and recover the proceeds of crime.
Robert Barrington, executive director at Transparency International UK, commented: "Knowing who owns houses and land in the UK is fundamental to preventing property being used as a safe haven for corrupt money."
The plans for the register come less than a month after the Treasury announced it would be launching a watchdog – the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision – specifically to tackle money laundering. The Office should be up and running by the start of next year.