The scale of offshore investment highlighted in the recent Property Week article raises some interesting and important questions about the government’s approach to financial crime.
The £263bn of offshore money that is reported to have been invested in property in England & Wales since 2000 is certainly staggering - but perhaps not too surprising in the current climate.
Property Week’s analysis found that £85bn came from companies registered in Jersey, with £50bn coming from the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Although Transparency International has expressed concern that the BVI is used to launder money through UK property, it is difficult to say with any certainty how much of the £263bn that has been invested here is ‘dirty’.
This lack of understanding is, of course, very unsatisfactory, particularly when you consider that the government’s own National Fraud Authority acknowledges that fraud costs the UK economy £52bn a year. However, despite being aware of this growing problem, the government doesn’t seem too interested in tackling economic crime, even though it was a manifesto pledge at the general election.
In fact, it recently dropped proposals to criminalise businesses that fail to prevent economic crime and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) appears to be increasingly hamstrung by a lack of funding and resources. This is backed up by the recent data showing that the SFO opened only 12 new investigations during 2013/14 - despite having received more than 2,500 reports of suspected fraud.
Although it is difficult to say how much money is being laundered through UK property, I expect that as the amount of money invested increases, our ability to detect it will fall.
Sarah Wallace, criminal and regulatory partner, Irwin Mitchell