The U.K. government said it wants to give Companies House more power and resources to help combat money laundering.
The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill aims to stem the flow of dirty money coming into the United Kingdom. The bill would give the organization—which provides a public register of businesses, their accounts, and their directors—new powers to “check, challenge, and decline” false information when new companies are set up.
Companies House’s investigation and enforcement powers would also be beefed up, enabling it to cross-check data with other organizations and report suspicious activity to security agencies and law enforcement, the U.K. government stated in a Sept. 22 press release.
The new measures would build upon the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act, which took effect following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to make it easier to impose sanctions and freeze the U.K. assets of rich Russians with personal and political links to the Kremlin, and the register of overseas entities, which provides for more thorough checks on U.K. property ownership.
The government hopes the reforms will root out shady businesses and prevent illicit funds being funneled through London, largely seen as one of the best cities for laundering money because of the size of its financial markets and weak controls.
However, experts have questioned why Companies House—regarded as a passive regulator—is at the forefront of the government’s latest initiative and why the organization did not have these responsibilities before, since every business registered in the United Kingdom must provide it with documentation to gain certification.
Kate Troup, a partner at law firm Fladgate, said the reason Companies House did not previously have this role is because past governments “had simply relied on other service providers—lawyers, accountants, and banks—to carry out the AML (anti-money laundering) role in relation to U.K. companies.”
The government has not disclosed what additional resources have been allocated to Companies House or how it will carry out this new role in practice. More detail is expected to be set out in secondary legislation.
Bion Behdin, chief revenue officer at AML compliance vendor First AML, believes the changes will help clamp down on money laundering because “the existing framework is so underweight that any reforms bolstering the accountability and checks required to register a company will inevitably have a positive impact.”
Currently, he said, “Companies House has little to no checks or auditability. For example, you could register a fabricated person as a director of ABC Limited without any auditing or reviewing it was a real person.”
Martin Wilson, chief executive of tech security firm OneID, said Companies House’s new commitments cannot be carried out easily without the necessary resources. “Previous efforts to address this have not always proved successful,” he added.
Wilson noted the United Kingdom in 2016 launched the people with significant control register, which was lauded as the world’s first public beneficial ownership register. The following year, an independent interrogation of the data by a team of data scientists at campaign group Global Witness found insufficient safeguards to ensure the accuracy of the data.
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