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It’s not just washing being laundered!

The Pandora papers, the biggest ever leak of offshore data exposing the financial secrets of the rich and powerful, has revealed the secret owners of more than 1,500 UK properties bought using offshore firms. The details, uncovered by a BBC investigation, are featured in the Pandora Papers leak of offshore financial documents and list property with an estimated value of more than £4bn.

The owners include high-profile foreign politicians, individuals accused of corruption and UK political donors. Successive Conservative governments have pledged to introduce legislation making it compulsory to name those owning property via foreign companies in a bid to stamp out money-laundering.

Among the revelations, retail giant Sir Philip Green acquired millions of pounds worth of properties in London, while the couples recently sold high street empire faced collapse. The Qatari ruling family bought two of London’s most expensive homes through offshore companies, saving millions of pounds in tax. Ukrainian billionaire Gennadiy Bogolyubov, who is under investigation by the FBI and had hundreds of millions in assets frozen in a fraud case, owns more than £400m of UK property

The BBC worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Guardian, Finance Uncovered and other media outlets to identify in the leaked files the individuals behind overseas companies that owned property in England and Wales.

John Dobson, CEO of SmartSearch, said: “From sex traffickers to drug smugglers and terrorists, those who launder money through purchasing property include some of the worst criminals on the planet. Although sadly not a new issue, the threat of money-laundering through the purchase of property has increased recently. With the pandemic causing transactions to be conducted remotely, the UK government recently raised its own assessment of the money laundering risk for the property market from medium to high.”

Mr Dobson continued, “For those working in the property purchase chain, offshore buyers should raise a red flag. While legal to own property through an offshore firm, it is key to identify who is actually providing the funds. Finding the Ultimate Beneficial Owner, and then screening them against sanctions lists takes significant time through traditional methods.”

He concluded, “This doesn’t need to be the case. By using an electronic verification system, money-laundering through offshore funds could be dramatically reduced. The system will identify who is the beneficiary of the transaction, and even screen them against global sanction lists to identify whether they, or anyone they are close to is involved in illicit activities.”

Although we at Wilsons consider it unlikely that we could find ourselves dealing with money laundering crooks in our neck of the woods, the matter still hurts us financially by us having to pay HMRC hundreds of pounds a year towards anti money laundering measures. Catch’em and lock ‘em up – that’s what we say!

By Chris Willey

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