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Government eyes action to prevent asset-flight in ‘dirty money’ crackdown

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teps are urgently being looked at to prevent foreign criminals and kleptocrats dodging a key move to target “dirty money” in the UK, a minister has told Parliament.

The Government was responding to concerns raised at Westminster of asset-flight ahead of new rules coming into force to tackle the laundering of illicit cash.

Delayed anti-corruption measures are now being rushed through Parliament in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, aimed at targeting oligarch allies of Vladimir Putin and ensuring sanctions hit home.

As part of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, the Tory administration has already agreed to reduce the time given to comply with a new register of foreign-owned property from 18 months to six.

But critics in the House of Lords, while backing the action being taken, argue this is still too long and should be cut to 28 days.

Transparency of ownership is the most basic anti-corruption tool, and the Government have resisted it for far too long

The legislation would establish a new register of overseas entities requiring foreign owners of property in the UK to declare their true identity in a move intended to ensure criminals cannot hide behind secretive shell companies.

People who fail to comply will have restrictions placed on selling the property while those who are found to have broken the rules will face fines or up to five years in prison.

Other measures contained in the Bill include strengthening unexplained wealth orders and the sanctions regime.

Warning against delay on enforcing the property register, independent crossbencher Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, who was director of public prosecutions when former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was murdered, said: “Six months is too long. It would defeat the very purpose of the Bill. Transparency of ownership is the most basic anti-corruption tool, and the Government have resisted it for far too long.”

On the proposed six-month transition period, Liberal Democrat Baroness Kramer said: “It still gives any oligarch plenty of time and scope to alter their arrangements, including by liquidating and moving assets out of the United Kingdom into a safe haven.”

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