Companies House will be given new powers to challenge incorrect or fraudulent claims made by kleptocrats and their agents in an economic crime bill that was previously delayed by Boris Johnson a few weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The new bill – the second of two that had to be hurriedly reannounced amid accusations the government had gone soft on dirty money – is backed by the new security minister, Tom Tugendhat.
“I am delighted that today we are introducing reforms that will make it much harder for kleptocrats to shield their ill-gotten gains and treat the UK as their safe deposit box,” the former Conservative leadership candidate said as he published the draft legislation.
The company registrar has been accused in the past of acting as little more than a postbox, taking all the claims made by kleptocrats and their representatives at face value, and thereby making them official, to the embarrassment of the UK.
But proposed reforms were delayed in the early part of the year, prompting the resignation of the then Treasury minister, Lord Agnew – and criticisms from Labour that the Conservatives were soft on Russian “dirty money”.
Johnson was forced to announce the economic crime bill would go ahead, but it was split into two parts. The first was focused on creating a register of overseas ownership of UK land and property, and on making it easier to prosecute those involved in breaking sanctions. It was rushed through in spring.
Other measures in the latest bill include tightening the regulation of Scottish and other limited partnerships. Lightly regulated Scottish limited partnerships had become seen as havens for money launderers from Russia and elsewhere because of their low reporting requirements and the fact they can be controlled by opaque offshore companies.
Law enforcement agencies will be given new powers to more quickly and easily seize cryptocurrencies that are the proceeds of crime or illicit activity such as ransomware hacker attacks. Money laundering using crypto has been sharply rising, Europol warned earlier this year.
A paper published by the Rusi thinktank earlier this week urged both the US and UK to continue to focus on combatting corruption, after a burst of activity at the start of the war last February.
“While Russia’s invasion has emphasised the need to combat this problem now, it was years of turning a blind eye to ‘dirty money’ that allowed it to take deep root in democratic societies, especially in the US and the UK,” wrote the authors, Isabella Chase and Maria Nizzero.