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Clampdown on Russian ‘dirty money’ in UK

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Written by: Emma Lunn
01/03/2022
Legislation to crack down on laundered dirty money in the UK and corrupt elites will be introduced in parliament today.

The government has brought forward the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The legislation will help the National Crime Agency prevent foreign owners from laundering their money in UK property and ensure more corrupt oligarchs can be handed an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO).

UWOs allow for the confiscation of property without proving criminality, by reversing the burden of proof.

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. Entities who don’t declare their ‘beneficial owner’ will face restrictions over selling their property, and those who break the rules could face up to five years in prison.

Under the reforms being brought in on UWOs, 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 key barriers to the use of UWOs by increasing time available to law enforcement to review material provided in response to a UWO. The new rules will also protect law enforcement agencies from incurring substantial legal costs if they bring a reasonable case that is ultimately unsuccessful.

Boris Johnson, prime minister, said: “There is no place for dirty money in the UK. We are going faster and harder to tear back the façade that those supporting Putin’s campaign of destruction have been hiding behind for so long.

“Those backing Putin have been put on notice: there will be nowhere to hide your ill-gotten gains.”

Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, said: “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.”

The Treasury will also intensify sanctions enforcement by introducing a more wide-ranging ‘strict civil liability test’ for monetary penalties, rather than the current one which requires firms to have knowledge or a ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ sanctions are being breached.

This will make it easier for the Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) to impose significant fines.

The government is also publishing a detailed white paper setting out its plans to upgrade Companies House. This will mean anyone setting up, running, owning or controlling a company in the UK will need to verify their identity with Companies House.

Companies House will be given the power to challenge the information that appears dubious, and will be empowered to inform security agencies of potential wrongdoing. The new rules will also mean company agents from overseas will no longer be able to create companies in the UK on behalf of foreign criminals or secretive oligarchs.

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