Press release 22nd Jul 2019

TI-UK calls for urgent review of ‘golden visa’ beneficiaries following Sunday Times/Dispatches investigation

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22nd July, 2019, London – Transparency International UK is calling on the Government to urgently review those granted Tier 1 investor visas and the source of their funds after an undercover investigation revealed private companies responsible for checking the provenance of a client’s money are also advising them how to mask suspicious wealth.

An investigation by The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches found UK-based private client firms are helping foreign individuals with suspicious wealth secure so-called ‘golden visas’ by effectively vouching for the source of their money and suggesting ways to skirt some of the regulations involved in opening a UK bank account.

Transparency International UK identified in 2015 that more than 3,000 individuals and their families, many of whom were from high corruption risk states like Russia and China, had made use of the Tier 1 investor scheme despite little to no checks being done on the source of their wealth.

The Government reformed the system in 2015, requiring applicants to have opened a UK bank account prior to receiving a visa. However, these latest revelations highlight the need for an urgent, thorough review into all those granted ‘golden’ visas, both in the 2008-2015 ‘blind faith period’ and beyond then.

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said:

We have long expressed concerns about vulnerabilities in the Tier 1 investor visa system and this investigation indicates it remains open to abuse. Despite claims that the system was tightened up after the ‘blind faith period’, it appears that the private sector is shirking their duties as the first line of defence against corrupt individuals using this system to enter the UK. The advice and services offered in the investigation highlight how UK professionals all too often enable the corrupt to launder both their money and reputations here.

It is now important that those firms profiled in this investigation – as well as others carrying out this activity – ensure they are carrying out full due diligence on clients and the source of their wealth. Regulators should be on the lookout for firms falling short in their duties and sanction those failing to prevent money laundering.

The Government has previously committed to reviewing the investments of more than 3,000 Tier 1 visas and this should happen without delay, with the addition of those who have gained access to the UK via the system since 2015. Any individuals found to have brought suspicious money into the UK should face a full investigation into the origin of all of their UK assets. Doing so would send a clear message that the UK is no longer a safe haven for corrupt money.