Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has today urged the First Minister to tighten up tax and ownership laws to prevent foreign oligarchs stashing ill-gotten gains in Scotland.
The UK government has introduced the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill which includes a UK-wide register of beneficial ownership. This will require foreign owners of UK property to declare and verify their identities, with prison sentences of up to five years for failure to comply.
In Scotland, under provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act) 2016 a new Register of Persons Holding a Controlled Interest in Land comes into force on April 1st. Under the new rules, any person who controls the affairs of an owner of land must declare their association with it. UK-registered companies are exempt from the regulations, but land owned by overseas businesses will have to declare who controls the company. However, unlike the UK legislation although there are criminal offences and a maximum fine of £5,000, there is no verification of the declaration so the declared beneficiary may or may not be person identified.
Mr Cole-Hamilton is now calling for:
- A transparent process for the registration of beneficial ownership, especially for foreign buyers.
- A system of verification to ascertain the end beneficiary of those assets.
- Measures to make it illegal to register a title to secretive foreign jurisdictions.
- A faster and more severe approach to sanctions to Russia and oligarchs with proven ties to Putin.
- Ensuring our energy sector is completely independent from Russia and that no project will receive Russian funding
- An end to Scottish Limited Partnerships, a tax scheme regularly associated with dirty money and obscure ownership structures.
Scot Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael has penned a letter to the Home Secretary demanding that the Government seize mansions and houses belonging to oligarchs linked to Putin’s regime, and use them to help house Ukrainian refugees.
Mr Cole Hamilton said:
“We cannot let Putin's cronies do whatever they please here. We must all categorically take a stand to limit Russia’s influence in Scotland and the UK.
“While it is well known that London has been a laundromat for dirty Russian money for decades, very little is known about oligarchs close to the Putin regime who have set themselves up as lords of the manor here in Scotland.
"If we want to weaken the regime we must hit where it hurts - their wallets. The First Minister needs to tighten up rules on tax and ownership to ensure that we are not a home for dodgy oligarchs to launder their cash. One simple way to do this would be to make it illegal to register a title to secretive foreign jurisdictions.
“We also need to better understand who ultimately benefits from these assets through an ironclad system of verification.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats stand in total solidarity with the Ukrainian people and in condemnation of Russia's invasion. Edinburgh has been twinned with Kyiv since 1989 and in this, their hour of desperate need, that relationship has to mean something."