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This Land Is Your Land: Britain’s £100 Billion Ghost Properties

Analysis by Global Witness has revealed that more than 87,000 properties in England and Wales are owned by anonymous companies registered in tax havens.

The value of these properties is at least £56 billion according to Land Registry data. When inflation and missing price data are taken into consideration, it’s estimated that the true value of this ghost property is in excess of £100 billion.

On Monday, anti-corruption NGO Global Witness, gave evidence to a parliamentary committee as it considered proposals to introduce a register of the real owners of UK properties. The Government committed to introduce a register of UK property owners at the Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016 but progress has been glacial.

Global Witness’s Ava Lee said;

“It’s increasingly clear that UK property is one of the favourite tools of the criminal and corrupt for stashing and laundering stolen cash. This analysis reveals the alarming scale of the UK’s secret property scandal” 

More than a third of the ghost properties haunt the nation’s capital. Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge hosts at least 134 secretly owned properties. As well as regal apparitions, Buckingham Palace Road is also home to a plethora of shadowy dwellings with an estimated combined value of £350 million. 

The breakdown makes for a shocking read;

10,000 in Westminster;

5,729 in Kensington and Chelsea;

2,320 in Camden; and

1,930 in Tower Hamlets

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At a grassroots level, campaigns like Land Justice UK have sprung up to highlight the increasingly bitter irony of a developed nation suffering an acute housing crisis whilst the spectre of rampant anonymous land speculation looms over every city and shire.

Global Witness has repeatedly exposed instances of the UK property market being used by criminals and corrupt politicians to hide or clean dirty money in a practice concealed by complex networks of companies and trusts. In 2015, the Nobel-prize co-nominated organisation even revealed how the mystery owner of a £147 million London property empire owned via a network of offshore companies could be linked to a former Kazakh secret police chief accused of murder, torture and money-laundering.

Speaking to TFT, Senior Anti-Corruption Campaigner, Naomi Hirst illustrated the institutional indifference which allows nefarious activity to continue unchecked:

“The National Crime Agency estimates that hundreds of billions of pounds of shady money impacts on the UK every year – and we know from our investigations that some of this will be coming through London real estate via anonymous companies registered in offshore tax havens.  Yet, year on year estate agents and lawyers consistently submit a paltry number of reports to law enforcement, turning a blind eye to the scale of suspicious funds washing through their institutions.”
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