scottish property secret owners scotland tax havens

How we revealed Scotland’s Secret Owners

In 2020, The Ferret calculated that nearly £2.8bn worth of Scottish property was owned by companies based in tax havens.

Scotland's Secret Owners property scottish tax havens

At that time, however, we knew little about the wealthy individuals, global companies and international governments who actually owned, and profited from, those offshore firms.

That’s because many tax havens – places like Jersey, Luxembourg and the British Virgin Islands – are also secrecy jurisdictions which allow companies set up within them to keep their owners anonymous. 

But over the next three days – thanks to a new Ferret analysis – we will be shedding light on some of Scotland’s Secret Owners for the first time. Here’s how. 

Why do we know more now? 

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK Government fast-tracked a new Economic Crime Act which aimed to “crack down on dirty Russian money in the UK”. 

A key tenet of the legislation was the creation of a new Register of Overseas Entities (ROE), a publicly accessible database outlining who really owns UK land and property through companies registered outside of the UK.

The register came into force on 1 August 2022 and foreign companies had to declare their true “beneficial” owners by 31 January 2023 or senior staff could face criminal charges including “fines of up to £500 a day or a prison sentence of up to five years”.

A beneficial owner is the person, company or other entity that enjoys the benefits of owning a property, even if it is held in another name. 

What does the register mean for Scotland? 

The register means that many tax haven companies who hold Scottish property have had to reveal their true owners for the first time.

While loopholes remain, the ROE provides a new insight into some of the individuals, corporations and global governments whose ownership of Scots property was previously hidden. 

How did we do our analysis?

Registers of Scotland – which maintains records on property ownership across the country – compiles an annual list of overseas companies that own Scots land and property. We bought 2021’s list of 3,000 overseas companies and compared it with the new ROE, which is managed by Companies House.

We then analysed the data, searching for matches between companies named as overseas owners of Scottish property in information filed to Registers of Scotland, and companies listed on the new register. When we found a match, we noted the name of the overseas company, the country where it was registered, its named beneficial owner, and the property – or properties – it owned to create our own bespoke database.  

We then scoured that database for the names of notable figures, those who owned famous properties, and those who owned a lot of property through overseas firms.

There’s much more to come. And you can also help us with the next stage of the research. 

We will make all of our data available to Ferret members once the series is published, so join us to make more discoveries about the owners and properties that matter to you and your community.

Main image: Jacco Rienks

Scotland’s secret owners is a Ferret investigation exclusively produced in partnership with The Herald. The Ferret is a media-coop, which works with its members to produce investigations in the public interest. Sign up to our newsletter to find out more or become a member at theferret.scot/subscribe

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