UK to beef up anti-corruption laws

The government wants to publicize the owners of private companies and punish those who help individuals hide their assets from the taxman.

The UK government plans to strengthen its anti-corruption laws through two new bills: The Small Business, Enterprise and Reform Bill and The Serious Crime Bill, both revealed earlier this month.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Reform Bill will increase transparency around who owns and controls UK private companies with a register of beneficial ownership.

The bill will also make it an offence to help individuals avoid paying tax and the UK's tax authority, HMRC, would be able to issue fines of up to £50,000 (€62,000; $85,000) for such dishonest conduct. The tax authority would also be able to name and shame those aiding tax avoiders by publishing: the name, address, the penalty amount, details of the dishonest conduct and any other information to make the person and business identifiable on the GOV.UK website for up to 12 months.

Barry Johnston, a senior UK political advisor at campaign group Christian Aid, said in a statement that the government must ensure that the information in the registry is accurate, that the registry includes legal trusts in addition to companies and that the UK’s offshore centers also create registries of their own.

The UK is likely to become the first country to make public the ownership of companies set up in offshore locales such as Jersey, Guernsey and the Cayman Islands, according to a client alert from law firm Dorsey & Whitney.

The Serious Crime Bill introduces a new white collar crime offence of “participation in an organized crime group” which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.

“Nobody is above the law. But for too long corrupt lawyers, accountants and other professionals have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability,” said in a statement Karen Bradley, minister for modern slavery and organized crime.