British leaders plan to introduce legislation in Parliament on Monday aimed at clamping down on money laundering and fraud following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The measure would strengthen law enforcement to go after corrupt oligarchs and create a so-called “Register of Overseas Entities,” where foreigners who own property in the United Kingdom must be identified by name, according to a government statement.
“There is no place for dirty money in the UK,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in the statement. “We are going faster and harder to tear back the façade that those supporting Putin’s campaign of destruction have been hiding behind for so long.”
The government said the registry sets up a new standard for global transparency so “criminals cannot hide behind secretive chains of shell companies.”
The registry will be retroactive for property bought up to 20 years ago in England and Wales and since 2014 in Scotland. The bill also includes a prison sentence of up to five years for anyone breaking the new rules.
Some context: Decades of loose regulation and courting of Russian investors mean that some allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin are now deeply integrated into UK society.
Wealthy Russians flocked to London over the past three decades after gaining entry to the UK via investor visa programs, according to a report published by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament in 2020. Light-touch regulation, lucrative investment opportunities and a legal system that can be used to settle disputes helped attract the oligarchs.
Many Russian oligarchs made their fortunes when state-owned companies were privatized in the chaos following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In London, they found an army of lawyers and bankers who were willing to help them invest in UK companies and London property, according to analysts.