LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said it would seek to introduce the world's first public register of the owners of foreign companies which own property in the country, in response to growing public unease that buyers are hiding behind obscure legal entities.
London property especially has attracted foreign buyers in recent years thanks to its mix of top-end apartments, luxury penthouses and gleaming skyscrapers alongside corporations who use the city as global hub.
"While the government welcomes legitimate foreign investment in the UK, overseas investors in the UK property market have also included criminals laundering the proceeds of crime," the business ministry said on Wednesday.
The register would show the beneficial owners of real estate owned by foreign companies and other legal entities, it said.
The vast majority of overseas companies that own property in London are registered in tax havens, according to a report by Transparency International UK and Thomson Reuters released late last year.
The release of the "Panama Papers" last year also shone a light on firms and individuals who use complex structures to base themselves abroad, putting the issue of tax avoidance at the top of the global agenda.
The government is asking overseas investors, property and transparency experts to submit evidence until May 15 as it assesses what impact the register might have on inward investment.
Firms are already required to register with Britain's corporate register, Companies House.
Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison