Ministers urged to unmask foreign owners of UK property in ‘weeks, not years’

Labor is urging the Government to massively cut the length of time foreign owners of UK property would be given to declare their true identity, in an effort to “tighten the net on dirty Russian money as soon as possible”.

Setting out the party’s proposed amendments to the Economic Crime Bill, Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow business secretary, warned that London has become “the destination of choice for Russia’s kleptocrats under this Government” and called for action to end “malign influence in our economy” .

It was announced earlier this week that the Government is fast-tracking plans to tackle “dirty money” and expose foreign oligarchs who launder their wealth through the UK’s property market in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ministers tabled the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill – previously expected later in the session – in Parliament on Tuesday.

The legislation is set to establish a new register of overseas entities requiring foreign owners of property in the UK to declare their true identity in a move intended to ensure criminals cannot hide behind secretive webs of shell companies.

Jonathan Reynolds urged the Government to move quickly (Gareth Fuller/PA)

(PA Wire)

People who fail to comply will have restrictions placed on selling the property while those who are found to have broken the rules will face anything from fines of up to £500 a day to up to five years in prison.

Labor wants to speed up the process of bringing the new register into force, with applications from foreign entities required within 28 days of the legislation passing.

This would represent a huge cut to the 18-month “transitional period” proposed by the Government, which Mr Reynolds warned “offers no deterrent now”.

In a letter to the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, he said: “Labor wants the obligation to register to come into effect within weeks, not years.

“Given the continually escalating situation in Ukraine, I hope we can count on Conservative support to tighten the net on dirty Russian money as soon as possible.”

I hope we can count on Conservative support to tighten the net on dirty Russian money as soon as possible

Jonathan Reynolds, shadow business secretary

Mr Reynolds also pushed for support for a Labor amendment to bring forward reforms to Companies House.

He said: “In the spirit of ending malignant influence in our economy we hope that the Government will support our amendments which seek to strengthen our ability to hit Russian oligarchs as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer warned earlier on Wednesday that the 18-month window could be “far too long for the Ukrainian people”.

He asked: “Why are we giving Putin’s cronies 18 months to quietly launder their money out of the UK property market and into another safe haven?”

On the speed of results, Boris Johnson said: “On Thursday the Russian stock market fell by 250 billion dollars worth of assets that were wiped off. The oak fell by about 40%.

“We are now in the third day in which the Russian stock market has not been able to open, that is thanks to the package of global sanctions, Western sanctions, that the UK has led in forcing on the Putin regime.

“He should acknowledge that.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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