A quarter of property in England and Wales owned by overseas firms is held by entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, BBC analysis has found. The Caribbean archipelago is the official home of companies that own 23,000 properties — more than any other country.
They are owned by 11,700 firms registered in the overseas territory. The finding emerged from BBC analysis conducted of Land Registry data on overseas property ownership.
The research found there are around 97,000 properties in England and Wales held by overseas firms, as of January 2018. It adds to concerns that companies registered in British-controlled tax havens have been used to avoid tax.
Close behind the British Virgin Islands, which has a population of just 30,600, are Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Of the properties owned by overseas companies in England and Wales, two thirds are registered to firms in the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
The government of the British Virgin Islands said it was incorrect to label the country as a tax haven. It said that there were many practical reasons why UK properties might be owned by companies incorporated in the BVI.
It argued that BVI companies can bring together multiple investors and owners, which is useful for big commercial property deals that have investors in more than one country. The BVI also said that it shared “necessary information” including ownership details with relevant authorities.
Among those entries in the database that disclosed a price, the most expensive was the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard, at 8-10 Broadway. While the most expensive buildings are commercial properties such as hotels and office blocks in prime central London locations, many are residential properties rather than business premises.
Take Green Street, London W1 – a residential street of highly-desirable four-storey redbrick Victorian terraces, fronted by smart wrought-iron railings. Walking east to west you’ll pass one terraced residence owned, according to the latest records, from the Turks and Caicos Islands by a company called Alliance Property Ltd.
Next door is another residence owned by Lily Holding & Finance Inc, registered in BVI. In all, 15 properties on the street are owned by companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, four in Jersey and one in the Isle of Man. Others have owners in Italy, Hong Kong and Singapore.