David Cameron has announced a crackdown on corrupt investment in UK property.
This year has seen the subject of potentially dodgy money being invested in the country's real estate raised multiple times. A recent Channel 4 documentary, From Russia with Cash, saw an undercover journalist approach estate agents pretending to be a Russian politician with stolen money to launder in London's property market.
While the National Association of Estate Agents has launched an investigation into the programme's footage, which featured agencies including Marsh & Parsons and Winkworth, the National Crime Agency has also warned that cash from criminals used to purchase expensive homes is helping to push up house prices.
"If [agents] have a suspicion that there may be money laundering involved, then they absolutely should be submitting a suspicious activity report. You are at risk of committing a criminal offence if you do not do that," the NCAâs economic crime command director, Donald Toon, told The Times.
Earlier this year, meanwhile, a report from Transparency International found that more than Â£180m worth of property in UK has been brought under criminal investigation since 2004, with 75 per cent of properties whose owners are under investigation for corruption making use of offshore corporate secrecy to hide their identities.
"We know that some high-value properties â particularly in London â are being bought by people overseas through anonymous shell companies, some of them with plundered or laundered cash," said Cameron today in Singapore.
"Iâm determined that the UK must not become a safe haven for corrupt money from around the world."
Around 100,000 property titles are registered to overseas companies, worth a total of Â£122 billion.
"We need to stop corrupt officials or organised criminals using anonymous shell companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property, without being tracked down," added the PM.
"People like convicted Nigerian fraudster James Ibori, who owned property in St Johnâs Wood, Hampstead, Regentâs Park, Dorset all paid for with money stolen from some of the worldâs poorest people. So we have got to find ways to make property ownership by foreign companies much more transparent."
This autumn, the Land Registry will publish data on foreign companies that own property titles in England and Wales for the first time.
"The vast majority of foreign-owned businesses that invest in property in the UK are entirely legitimate and proper, and have nothing at all to hide," noted Cameron.
"They are welcome in Britain. Indeed I want more of them. We want one of the most open country in the world for investment. And I want Britain to be that country. But I want to ensure that all this money is clean money.
"London is not a place to stash your dodgy cash."