More than £100bn of UK property is secretly owned

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The Observer London More than £100bn of UK property is secretly owned Analysis by Global Witness shows 87,000 properties – 40% of them in London – are anonymously owned by firms registered in tax havens

Campden Hill Square in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Thousands of buildings in the borough are secretly owned Photograph: Teri Pengilley

More than £100bn of property in England and Wales is secretly owned, new analysis suggests. More than 87,000 properties are owned by anonymous companies registered in tax havens, research by the transparency group Global Witness reveals.

The analysis reveals that 40% of the properties are in London. Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge, where the average property costs £3m, hosts at least 134 secretly owned properties. Buckingham Palace Road is also home to a large number, with a combined estimated value of £350m.

The revelation comes as parliament’s joint select committee on the draft registration of overseas entities bill meets on Monday to hear evidence on the impact of property ownership by anonymous companies.

The government committed to introduce a register of UK property owners at its anti-corruption summit in 2016, but since then progress has been slow.

“It’s increasingly clear that UK property is one of the favourite tools of the criminal and corrupt for stashing and laundering stolen cash,” said Ava Lee, senior anti-corruption campaigner at Global Witness.

“This analysis reveals the alarming scale of the UK’s secret property scandal.”

The combined value of the properties was at least £56bn, according to historical Land Registry data at the time of their acquisition. Once inflation is factored in this would exceed £100bn.

Some 10,000 of the properties are in Westminster, while almost 6,000 are in Kensington and Chelsea. Camden is home to more than 2,300 of the anonymously owned properties while almost 2,000 are in Tower Hamlets.

Global Witness says its investigations have shown how criminals and corrupt politicians use the UK property market to hide or clean dirty cash, and to secure safe havens for themselves and their families.

In 2015 it revealed how the mystery owner of a £147m 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.

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