Government officials in the United Kingdom are facing questions over loopholes in the newly unveiled anti-corruption plan, similar to a debate going on in the European Union over new anti-money laundering regulations.
The U.K. this month released its highly anticipated and first-ever national anti-corruption plan, which brings together all of the anti-corruption efforts from disparate agencies. The 60-page plan covers everything from whistleblower protections to new sentencing guidelines with some ambitious goals, including the creation of a new national multi-agency team focused on serious bribery and corruption, under the leadership of the National Crime Agency, by April. The Ministry of Justice also is tasked with coming up with a recommendation by June on whether to expand corporate criminal liability to add a new offense of failure to prevent economic crime – a move the head of the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office has supported.
“When we achieve these commitments, we will have made it harder for criminals in the U.K. to carry out their crimes; we will have strengthened the integrity of institutions across the public and private sectors; and we will have in place plans to make best use of the U.K.’s position as a leading international donor and centre of world trade and investment to stamp out bribery and corruption and raise global standards,” business minister Matthew Hancock said in a joint statement with modern slavery and organized crime minister Karen Bradley.
“The blight of corruption will not be solved overnight and we will continue to work with partners across government, international institutions, civil society, and business to improve the response both here in the U.K. and around the world,” the ministers said.
The plan, which acknowledged the U.K. is often targeted to launder illicit proceeds, calls for the creation of a central register of U.K. companies’ beneficial owners “as soon as practicable” after the necessary legislation has been passed. Unlike the EU proposal for beneficial ownership registers, the U.K. version would be automatically accessible by the public. Companies would be required to obtain and keep information on their beneficial owners and provide the information to Companies House, the plan says. Companies would face criminal penalties for failing to provide information or providing false information.
However, members of parliament and others are raising concerns that the transparency bid does not extend to the property market, with an estimated 45 percent of London homes worth more than £2 million owned by overseas trusts, according to an article in the Guardian.
Conservative MP Stephen Barclay told the Guardian the failure to include property owners was one of “the notable omissions of the plan.”
Robert Barrington, executive director of Transparency International, also criticized the obvious property loophole. “If a house in London is owned by an offshore trust, absolutely no one has any idea who owns it,” Barrington told the Guardian.
Hancock reportedly told MPs that the government will consider expanding the beneficial ownership register, but did not specify whether that would include the property market, the Guardian reported.