Links found in forensic investigation
Since the so-called ‘Paradise Papers’ leak last Autumn, which produced a flurry of stories, there has been little further news but that changed in April this year with the showing of a BBC Panorama expose. In the programme, entitled Gangsters’ Dirty Money Exposed, researchers claim that a Ukrainian crime gang used offshore firms in British tax havens to secretly invest millions of pounds in the UK.
In the programme, researchers showed documentation that suggests a number of individuals named in an Italian police report into the ‘Odessa oil mafia’ have been able to hide their identities and anonymously channel wealth into seemingly legitimate assets, such as London property.
Many of the revelations come from the Paradise Papers data breach and include transcriptions from phone taps, property deeds, company records and recorded interviews that contradict later statements.
Anti-corruption campaigner Transparency International, which assisted in the investigation, says it is far too easy for criminals to bring dirty money into the UK. The organisation is calling on the Government to speed up legislation to create a register of owners of overseas companies being used to buy UK property.
The Government has previously said a beneficial ownership register of foreign companies that own or buy UK property will go live in early 2021, but there are now calls to bring this forward.
Criminals who want to hide the provenance of their wealth will go to extreme lengths to do so but if a thorough investigation can be carried out, forensic accountants will find it.
Roger Isaacs, Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “A beneficial ownership register of foreign companies will go some way in combatting fraud. But it will also impact on legitimate businesses doing business in the UK. Ahead of the proposed 2021 launch, overseas businesses should begin preparing to disclose their interests in British property.”
Author: Roger Isaacs 3 May 2018