News 14th Mar 2016

A Letter to the next Mayor of London

Jameela Raymond

Senior Policy Officer

Jameela is TI-UK’s Senior Policy Officer, working closely on coordinating UK and international anti-corruption policies and collaborating with civil society organisations and policy experts around the world. Jameela was previously TI-UK’s Public Engagement Officer (2014-2016), and recently completed her MSc in Globalisation and Latin American Development at UCL. She is enthusiastic about issues of development, politics, race, gender, equality and diversity.

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Dear future Mayor of London,

Your election isn’t for another few months, but we wanted to say hello. We know you’ll be busy thinking about what to do next on pollution, London crime levels, and quality of transport in the city, but we at Transparency International UK thought we’d raise a point that we think is of huge importance: corrupt money in London property.

Like you, we love London. We understand why its international image as one of the world’s most multicultural, vibrant, and professional cities in the world makes it an attractive place to live for many. But we also know that there are less impressive reasons why London is considered a dream destination for some of the world’s wealthiest: the city’s acceptance of money from secret sources means that corrupt individuals see the UK’s capital as a safe home for their stolen cash. And as the corrupt make a house a home for their illicit wealth, we’re seeing ordinary people struggle to rent or buy property, and local businesses decline.

Our research last year unearthed some shocking statistics about the amount of anonymously owned properties in the UK, specifically in London, through complex money laundering processes which we have turned a blind eye to for too long. Did you know that 48% of all London properties owned by offshore haven companies are in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea? Did you read about the ghost mansionsin North London, where the majority of the most expensive properties are registered to anonymous owners through companies in the British Overseas Territories?

Did you know that 36,342 London properties are held by hidden companies in offshore havens? No one – not the public, not the police, not you, and not even the Prime Minster – knows who owns those homes. There’s a chance that many of these properties will been bought with clean funds, but there’s also a chance that some of the world’s most corrupt are stashing their stolen money in our precious property.

Are you aware that more than £180 million of UK property has been brought under investigation for corruption since 2004 – an amount that the Metropolitan Police believe to be just the “tip of the iceberg”?

We feel strongly that those points (and more) signify London and the UK’s complicity in accepting illicit wealth into our precious property market. We’ve even reached a point now when the National Crime Agency has stated that ‘prices of high-end property are being artificially driven up by the desire of overseas criminals to sequester their assets here in the UK’.

This might all seem like a lot to take in, but there is one key thing that you, as mayor, can do to tackle the problem: support the call for transparency over who owns the companies that own so much property in the UK. The USA kicked off 2016 by stating that they would start identifying and tracking secret buyers of high-end properties, shining a light on shell companies and making the market much fairer, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t follow suit. The Government has just launched a consultation on this issue so the opportunity for change is now. Your voice would add weight to the call for transparency.

In the words of the Prime Minster: “There is no place for dirty money in Britain. Indeed, there should be no place for dirty money anywhere. That is my message to foreign fraudsters: London is not a place to stash your dodgy cash.” We couldn’t agree more.