Oxford Street candy shops could face stricter rules under council campaign against ‘dirty money’

·2-min read
Goods seized in a Trading Standard raid on Oxford Street (Westminster City Council/PA) (PA Media)
Goods seized in a Trading Standard raid on Oxford Street (Westminster City Council/PA) (PA Media)

Oxford Street sweet shops could face stricter rules after Westminster Council unveiled a new campaign to tackle London’s reputation as a haven for “dirty money”.

The council is already investigating some American-themed candy stores over alleged business rates evasion of millions of pounds.

Council officials said a common feature in these investigations had been the use of opaque shell company structures to avoid identifying the genuine owners, frustrating efforts to take offenders to court.

Labour council leader, Adam Hug, who has previously called the shops a “threat” to Oxford Street’s reputation, also raised fears the explosion in overseas property investment in the borough is being used to launder money of questionable origin.

Speaking as the council launched a new “dirty money” campaign, he said: “Westminster’s dirty secret has been known for many years but those in power looked the other way for too long as money of questionable origin flooding into London and investors took advantage of our relatively lax laws.

“Companies House does not have the powers or resources to address those who set up opaque shell companies to launder and export money from London.

“There are more background checks required to get a local authority lending card than to set up a company in the UK.”

Seized products from an Amercian candy shop in Oxford Street earlier this year (Adam Hug)
Seized products from an Amercian candy shop in Oxford Street earlier this year (Adam Hug)

Proposals suggested by the council include for the Government to hike the fee to register a company at Companies House from £12 to £50 and to introduce more rigorous identity checks.

It also called for proper implementation of a newly-passed measure which would make a public register of beneficial ownership register of property.

It comes after a report last year by the Centre for Public Data found that Westminster had the highest number of properties registered to overseas individuals in 2021 of any area in the UK.

It found Westminster borough had seen a 1,200% rise in the number of property owners registered to Russia and a 300% rise in owners registered in Jersey, since 2010.

As part of the campaign, the council will hold an open forum on Thursday with major property developers, anti-corruption experts and representatives from key government agencies.

Councillors are also set to vote Wednesday night on a range of “fair tax measures”, which include ensuring suppliers are not inappropriately utilising not-for-profit structures to avoid tax.