According to a report Wednesday from Transparency International, the boom in the London property market has been fueled by dirty money from around the world.
The report said more than 36,000 properties in London are owned by anonymous companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey, among others.
Some properties were bought with legitimate funds through offshore companies to maintain privacy, the report said. But an unknown number were bought through the offshore companies to conceal the source of dirty money.
According to TI, 2.25 square miles of London property — including nearly one in 10 properties in the London borough of the City of Westminster — are held by companies in offshore jurisdictions.
TI said buying property in London using anonymous offshore companies allows criminals to bypass UK money-laundering checks.
Naomi Heaton, CEO of London Central Portfolio, a real estate firm, said TI’s report exaggerates the problem.
In a statement emailed to the FCPA Blog, she said the 36,342 properties in London owned by offshore companies represent only about 1% of the 3.3 million households in London.
TI, she said, is unfairly lumping all 36,000 properties together. “The many innocent people who hold property through offshore companies, quite legitimately, and who run their affairs transparently and in accordance with the UK tax legislation, may well have something to say about that. So may the pension funds and insurance companies,” she said.
TI recommended more transparency over who beneficially owns and runs the offshore companies that buy property.
Robert Barrington, executive director of TI-UK, said, “There is growing evidence that the UK property market has become a safe haven for corrupt capital stolen from around the world, facilitated by the laws which allow UK property to be owned by secret offshore companies.”
But Heaton said the Metropolitan Police proceeds of corruption unit investigated £180 million ($275 million) worth of property in the last 11 years. That’s just 0.04 percent the £437 billion ($667 billion) market, she said.
While TI may have a point, Heaton said, “they seem to be cracking a nut with a sledgehammer.”
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.