Overseas companies owning UK property who have not registered their beneficial owners with Companies House could now face penalties such as sale restrictions and tough fines, the UK government said in a statement on 1 February.
Foreign companies were required to declare their beneficial owners on the Register of Overseas Entities by Tuesday 31 January, under what the government described as "world leading new anti-money laundering measures to "flush out corrupt elites".
Now that the deadline has passed, foreign companies that have not submitted information to Companies House could face severe sanctions, including financial penalties or prosecution, it said.
The register was introduced as part of a package of tough economic measures announced in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, targeting the illicit wealth of supporters of the Putin regime.
The register also exposes criminals using overseas companies to launder money. Recently scammer Dr Ruja Ignatova, the "Cryptoqueen" on the FBI's most wanted list, was publicly declared the beneficial owner of two intermediaries in Guernsey due to the new requirements.
Business minister Lord Callanan said: "There is nowhere for the criminals and corrupt elites to hide. We will be using all the tools at our disposal, including fines and restrictions, to crack down on foreign companies who have not complied."
The government further said unregistered companies are already automatically rejected from registering ownership of any new land by HM Land Registry. Any UK buyers will be unable to transfer their title to the deed of any property purchased from non-compliant organisations, frustrating attempts to sell.
Criminals purchase a safe investment like land and property through opaque corporate structures to clean their dirty money. The Register brings transparency to these overseas based structures, and the restrictions halt the flow of money for those who do not comply.
Companies House is now assessing and preparing cases for enforcement action. Further regulations will also empower Companies House to impose financial penalties on land owned by non-compliant organisations, as well as pursue other legal avenues.
It is estimated that 19,510 out of a total of 32,440 registered overseas organisations have declared their beneficial owners. The information gained has also been invaluable for tax and revenue services, bringing transparency to opaque offshore trusts often used to obscure assets for tax purposes.
Companies House and the Insolvency Service will also gain enhanced powers from the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which has just completed scrutiny in the House of Commons. Through the investment of up to £20 million of allocated spending, both organisations will recruit new teams of intelligence and analytical experts to further boost their capability to tackle money laundering and aid law enforcement.
Louise Smyth, chief executive officer of Companies House said: "The implementation of the Register of Overseas Entities has been another huge step forward in the transformation of Companies House and our role in helping combat economic crime.
"We cannot be clearer in our message to these entities; if you ignored warnings and fail to register before the deadline, you will face consequences. This includes not only the prospect of restrictions on your land or property but also a possible fine, prison sentence, or both."