London, Feb 28 (PTI) The UK government on Monday confirmed a fast-tracking of legislation to crack down on dirty money and corrupt super-rich foreigners laundering money through the property market in Britain, days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced economic sanctions which targeted major Russian banks and leaders.
The new Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill will be introduced in the UK Parliament on Tuesday, brought forward in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to target Russian oligarchs known to be heavily invested in the UK.
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Once the new law is passed, it will help the National Crime Agency (NCA) prevent foreign owners from laundering their money in UK property and ensure corrupt billionaires can be handed an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO).
“There is no place for dirty money in the UK. We are going faster and harder to tear back the façade that those supporting [Russian President] Putin’s campaign of destruction have been hiding behind for so long,” British Prime Minister Johnson said in a statement.
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“Those backing Putin have been put on notice: there will be nowhere to hide your ill-gotten gains,” he said.
The government said a new register will require anonymous foreign owners of UK property to reveal their real identities to ensure criminals cannot hide behind “secretive chains of shell companies”, setting a new global standard for transparency.
Entities who do not declare their so-called “beneficial owner” will face restrictions over selling their property, and those who break the rules could face up to five years in prison.
“Government has taken unprecedented action in the face of barbaric Russian aggression,” said UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.
“Time is up for Putin’s cronies hiding dirty money in the UK and this new legislation will help to crack down on economic crime, including removing key barriers to using Unexplained Wealth Orders,” she said.
The Register of Overseas Entities, to be introduced in Tuesday’s legislation, will apply retrospectively to property bought by overseas owners up to 20 years ago in England and Wales and since December 2014 in Scotland.
It will be held by UK Companies House, with support from the country’s Land Registries.
“The new register will shine a light on who owns what in the UK so we can flush out the oligarchs, criminals and kleptocrats who think they can use UK property to hide their illicitly obtained wealth,” said UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
Under new measures being brought in on UWOs, the UK government said those who hold property in the UK in a trust will be brought within scope and the definition of an asset’s “holder” will also be expanded to ensure individuals can’t hide behind opaque shell companies and foundations.
The reforms will also remove certain barriers to the current use of UWOs by increasing time available to law enforcement officers to review material provided in response to a UWO and reforming cost rules to protect agencies from incurring substantial legal costs if they bring a reasonable case that is ultimately unsuccessful.
While the direct target is Russian oligarchs with known links with Putin, the new measures have a wider remit of tackling economic crime in the UK and creating a “clean and safe place” for legitimate investment from all parts of the world.
Additionally, anyone setting up, running, owning or controlling a company in the UK will now need to verify their identity with Companies House, which will be given the power to challenge the information that appears dubious, and will be empowered to inform security agencies of potential wrongdoing.
The reform of Companies House will form part of further legislation to be introduced in the coming months via a further Economic Crime Bill to clamp down on illicit finance and improve corporate transparency, the Home Office said.
It will cover new powers to seize crypto assets, strengthened anti-money laundering powers and a clampdown on the use of “limited partnerships” as vehicles for facilitating international money laundering and illegal arms movements.
Separately, a new “Kleptocracy” cell based in the NCA, announced by Boris Johnson last week, is being created immediately to investigate sanctions evasion.
This will ensure that those seeking to bypass the severe economic sanctions announced against Russia last week, will be caught and punished, the UK government said.
Last week, Prime Minister Johnson announced that major Russian banks will be excluded from the UK financial system and oligarchs will be targeted in new sanctions.
He told the House of Commons they were “the largest and most severe package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever seen”.
UK’s action follows Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which began with air strikes in the early hours of Thursday morning.
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