Campaign group warning of possible criminal exploitation of some of region’s properties

A campaign group has warned that almost 100 properties in North Lincolnshire are owned by companies registered in offshore tax havens and could be exploited by criminals.

Tuesday, 26th March 2019, 11:33 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th March 2019, 12:38 pm
Concern that some homes in North Lincolnshire could be used for criminal activity

Campaign group Global Witness sounded the warning after it said analysis of the Land Registry for England and Wales revealed that more than 87,000 properties worth an estimated £100bn are owned by anonymous overseas companies.

It said the figures demonstrate the "alarming scale of the UK’s secret property scandal”, which criminals could be using to launder money.

In North Lincolnshire, there are 104 properties owned by companies registered outside of the UK.

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Of these, 98 are owned by companies based in  so-called secrecy jurisdictions, or tax havens – countries whose laws allow them to keep their financial activities private or to pay a low amount of tax.

Companies registered in Jersey own the largest share in North Lincolnshire, with 61 properties.

This is followed by the British Virgin Islands, on 15 properties, and the Isle of Man, with 10. Information about the sale price has been provided for 18 percent of the tax haven-owned properties, which had a combined cost of £54 million.

Global Witness used the average price of property in North Lincolnshire to estimate the value of the remaining properties, which suggests the true value could be £82 million after inflation is taken into account.

This could be a conservative estimate, as property prices in England and Wales generally rise above the rate of inflation, it added.

The group said the government had pledged to introduce a new register of UK property owners, but that progress had been slow.

Senior anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness, Ava Lee, said: “It’s increasingly clear that UK property is one of the favourite tools of the criminal and corrupt for stashing and laundering stolen cash. There’s some good news. Parliament is reviewing a draft law that could force these secret owners out of the shadows. We’re calling on the Government to table this legislation as quickly as possible, so we can find out who really owns so much of the UK.” The New legislation would mean companies buying property in the UK would have to reveal the identity of their owners.

Across Yorkshire and the Humber, there are 5,652 properties owned by overseas companies, 88% of which are registered in secret jurisdictions – 4,988 in total.

The properties owned by companies registered in tax havens are worth an estimated £5 billion.

HMRC said there is "absolutely no place for illicit finance in the UK".

“We take our response to money laundering very seriously through our supervision of high risk sectors," a spokesman said.

“Increasingly we are seeking to use our supervisory, enforcement and tax powers in concert, enabling us to increase our focus on the enablers of tax crime and money laundering.”

He added that estate agents were legally obliged to register with HMRC for anti-money laundering supervision, and faced action if they failed to do so.