TIMES.KY

Cayman Islands, Caribbeanand International News
Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

Register of Overseas Entities: What three luxury homes reveal about who owns UK property

Register of Overseas Entities: What three luxury homes reveal about who owns UK property

Owners of around 50,000 UK properties held by foreign companies remain hidden from public view, despite new transparency laws.

The Register of Overseas Entities, launched in August 2022, was meant to reveal who ultimately owns UK property.

But analysis by BBC News and Transparency International found almost half of firms required to declare who is behind them failed to do so.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge said the legislation was not "fit for purpose".

A UK government spokesperson said the register has been an "invaluable source of information for law enforcement, and tax and revenue services".

The UK government has long promised to crack down on "corrupt elites" from overseas, including "Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats", using UK property to launder illegal wealth.

Ministers insisted they would crack down on foreign criminals using UK property to launder money by ensuring they "can't hide behind secretive chains of shell companies".

As a result, under a law passed in February 2022 in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, ministers said anonymous foreign companies seeking to buy UK land or property would be required to reveal full details of the individuals who ultimately owned them. Overseas organisations that already owned land in the UK were given a six-month period to do the same.

Now that six-month grace period is up - all the people, whatever their reputations, behind companies that own thousands of British properties should have been uncovered for the first time.

The BBC and Transparency International matched thousands of filings from the new register with Land Registry records. This analysis suggests that some 18,000 offshore companies - which between them hold more than 50,000 properties in England and Wales - either ignored the law altogether or filed information in such a way that it remains impossible for the public to find out who the individuals are who ultimately own and benefit from them.

"While the register is starting to serve its intended purpose, our analysis reveals there are far too many companies that could be trying to skirt the rules, not knowing they exist, or ignoring them altogether," says Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK.

To understand how the law is and isn't working, it helps to look at three very expensive properties. The first is a pair of luxury apartments. Another is a sprawling £48m estate in north London, the third a £10m country mansion.

All have been linked in some way to figures connected with Vladimir Putin's regime.

For instance, look at the two luxury flats in central London worth an estimated £11m.


Their ownership by the former Russian deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, was first reported by the Anti-Corruption Foundation, set up by jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

According to the UK government, who placed him under sanction in March 2022, Mr Shuvalov - who heads the management board of a Russian bank - is "a core part of Putin's inner circle".

And now the register has confirmed that he and his wife are the ultimate owners of the flats, held through a Russian company, Sova Real Estate LLC.

Mr Shuvalov's spokesperson told the BBC last year that these issues "have been the subject of competent government audits", and that "no complaints were ever filed".

But while there are thousands of examples where the register is working, the ultimate ownership of thousands of properties remains shielded from public view.

Take Beechwood House, a north London estate bought for £48m in 2008 with a value around £85m.

After Russia's invasion of Ukraine 12 months ago, the UK government came down hard on wealthy businessmen close to Putin's regime. Assets were frozen, stopping rich Russians from taking their money out of the UK.

But it wasn't always clear exactly which assets belonged to these oligarchs.

For instance, Beechwood House was listed by the government as owned by oligarch and ex-Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov when it announced sanctions against him.

A spokesperson for the oligarch has now told the BBC that he transferred Beechwood House, as well as other assets, to family trusts "long before sanctions were imposed" and that while Mr Usmanov was a beneficiary for a period of time, he withdrew "on an irrevocable basis".

The spokesperson added: "Neither Mr Usmanov nor members of his family are the beneficial owners of these companies."

You would think the register should shed light on who actually owns Beechwood House. But it does not.

The owner is given as Hanley Limited, an Isle of Man company. And in turn the beneficial owner of Hanley Limited is Swiss company Pomerol Capital SA, which controls it as part of a trust structure.

However, nothing about the individuals who own Pomerol Capital is listed on the public register.

That is because companies owned through trusts - as opposed to other set-ups - are exempt from having their beneficial owner information made public on the register.

So from the filing, it is impossible to identify the people who own, control or stand to benefit from Beechwood House- a property that the government itself said was owned by Mr Usmanov, which would have made it subject to an asset freeze.


While the names of individuals linked to trusts are not included in the register, companies do have to provide their details privately to the corporate registry Companies House.

And many other owners have found an even more straightforward means of keeping their names off the register - by simply not complying with the new legislation.

Overseas companies with property in the UK - bought since January 1999 in England and Wales and since December 2014 in Scotland - were supposed to reveal the identity of their owners by 31 January.

But around half of offshore firms with property in England and Wales - approximately 15,000 - had no matching record in the property register before last week's government deadline.

This includes the company that owns a £90m home in west London linked with former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. The Cyprus-based firm does not yet appear to have submitted its details to the property register.

Mr Abramovich could not be reached for comment.

As well as the firms that are yet to file, BBC analysis has found that one in four offshore companies that have submitted their details have actually included other foreign firms, not people, as their owners.


Some of these are owned by trusts, as with Beechwood House.

But that is not the only way in which companies are avoiding publicly disclosing the individuals who are actually behind them.

And there is a third category - companies that have filed their details to the property register, but have not complied with the rules.

The BBC's investigation has identified more than 1,800 companies whose filings do not appear to do so.

Among these is Uart International, a Panamanian company that, according to Land Registry records, acquired a countryside mansion in 2008.


As part of the Pandora Papers, a leak of almost 12 million files, the property was owned through an offshore corporate network controlled by Vladimir Chernukhin and his wife, Lubov.

Mr Chernukhin is a former Russian deputy minister of finance and businessman who had financial links to oligarchs close to the Kremlin. He moved to the UK after being sacked by Putin in 2004 and insists he is not a supporter of the Russian president.

His wife Lubov, whom he married in London in 2007, is a major donor to the Conservative Party, having given the Tories more than £2.3m since 2012.

Companies House records show that Uart International lists another foreign firm as its "person of significant control". This means that the individuals who ultimately own the property remain hidden from the public register, despite the change in the legislation.

Under the new regulations, another anonymous offshore firm should not be named as the owner of a company with UK property.

There is no indication in the filings that the company owner is a trustee, which would exempt the firm from having their person of significant control revealed on the register - suggesting it could be a violation of the rules.

Lawyers for the couple told the BBC that "Mr and Mrs Chernukhin do not support, and have never supported, the policies of President Putin, nor are they allies of President Putin" and that they are "unaware of Uart ever having made corporate filings contrary to the applicable rules and regulations in all relevant jurisdictions".


While the new rules include severe penalties for companies and individuals who do not comply, experts have questioned whether this will work.

"Although the legislation contains some stringent penalties for non-compliance, the government has failed to equip Companies House with the teeth and resources to apply these in practice," says Helena Wood, head of the UK Economic Crime Programme at the Royal United Services Institute think tank.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax, said the new register was "turning into a joke".

She added: "We need to know who owns these fantastically expensive properties, why they bought them and how they got the money to do so."

A government spokesperson said that Companies House was now "assessing and preparing cases for enforcement action" and further legislation would allow it to impose fines and pursue legal avenues against companies that are flouting the law.

Newsletter

Related Articles

TIMES.KY
0:00
0:00
Close
Paper straws found to contain long-lasting and potentially toxic chemicals - study
FTX's Bankman-Fried headed for jail after judge revokes bail
Blackrock gets half a trillion dollar deal to rebuild Ukraine
Israel: Unprecedented Civil Disobedience Looms as IDF Reservists Protest Judiciary Reform
America's First New Nuclear Reactor in Nearly Seven Years Begins Operations
Southeast Asia moves closer to economic unity with new regional payments system
Today Hunter Biden’s best friend and business associate, Devon Archer, testified that Joe Biden met in Georgetown with Russian Moscow Mayor's Wife Yelena Baturina who later paid Hunter Biden $3.5 million in so called “consulting fees”
Singapore Carries Out First Execution of a Woman in Two Decades Amid Capital Punishment Debate
Google testing journalism AI. We are doing it already 2 years, and without Google biased propoganda and manipulated censorship
Unlike illegal imigrants coming by boats - US Citizens Will Need Visa To Travel To Europe in 2024
Musk announces Twitter name and logo change to X.com
The politician and the journalist lost control and started fighting on live broadcast.
The future of sports
Unveiling the Black Hole: The Mysterious Fate of EU's Aid to Ukraine
Farewell to a Music Titan: Tony Bennett, Renowned Jazz and Pop Vocalist, Passes Away at 96
Alarming Behavior Among Florida's Sharks Raises Concerns Over Possible Cocaine Exposure
Transgender Exclusion in Miss Italy Stirs Controversy Amidst Changing Global Beauty Pageant Landscape
Joe Biden admitted, in his own words, that he delivered what he promised in exchange for the $10 million bribe he received from the Ukraine Oil Company.
TikTok Takes On Spotify And Apple, Launches Own Music Service
Global Trend: Using Anti-Fake News Laws as Censorship Tools - A Deep Dive into Tunisia's Scenario
Arresting Putin During South African Visit Would Equate to War Declaration, Asserts President Ramaphosa
Hacktivist Collective Anonymous Launches 'Project Disclosure' to Unearth Information on UFOs and ETIs
Typo sends millions of US military emails to Russian ally Mali
Server Arrested For Theft After Refusing To Pay A Table's $100 Restaurant Bill When They Dined & Dashed
The Changing Face of Europe: How Mass Migration is Reshaping the Political Landscape
China Urges EU to Clarify Strategic Partnership Amid Trade Tensions
Europe is boiling: Extreme Weather Conditions Prevail Across the Continent
The Last Pour: Anchor Brewing, America's Pioneer Craft Brewer, Closes After 127 Years
Democracy not: EU's Digital Commissioner Considers Shutting Down Social Media Platforms Amid Social Unrest
Sarah Silverman and Renowned Authors Lodge Copyright Infringement Case Against OpenAI and Meta
Italian Court's Controversial Ruling on Sexual Harassment Ignites Uproar
Why Do Tech Executives Support Kennedy Jr.?
The New York Times Announces Closure of its Sports Section in Favor of The Athletic
BBC Anchor Huw Edwards Hospitalized Amid Child Sex Abuse Allegations, Family Confirms
Florida Attorney General requests Meta CEO's testimony on company's platforms' alleged facilitation of illicit activities
The Distorted Mirror of actual approval ratings: Examining the True Threat to Democracy Beyond the Persona of Putin
40,000 child slaves in Congo are forced to work in cobalt mines so we can drive electric cars.
BBC Personalities Rebuke Accusations Amidst Scandal Involving Teen Exploitation
A Swift Disappointment: Why Is Taylor Swift Bypassing Canada on Her Global Tour?
Historic Moment: Edgars Rinkevics, EU's First Openly Gay Head of State, Takes Office as Latvia's President
Bye bye democracy, human rights, freedom: French Cops Can Now Secretly Activate Phone Cameras, Microphones And GPS To Spy On Citizens
The Poor Man With Money, Mark Zuckerberg, Unveils Twitter Replica with Heavy-Handed Censorship: A New Low in Innovation?
Unilever Plummets in a $2.5 Billion Free Fall, to begin with: A Reckoning for Misuse of Corporate Power Against National Interest
Beyond the Blame Game: The Need for Nuanced Perspectives on America's Complex Reality
Twitter Targets Meta: A Tangle of Trade Secrets and Copycat Culture
The Double-Edged Sword of AI: AI is linked to layoffs in industry that created it
US Sanctions on China's Chip Industry Backfire, Prompting Self-Inflicted Blowback
Meta Copy Twitter with New App, Threads
The New French Revolution
BlackRock Bitcoin ETF Application Refiled, Naming Coinbase as ‘Surveillance-Sharing’ Partner
×