According to an investigation conducted by Private Eye magazine, an area the size of Surrey is owned by companies registered in tax havens. Since 1999, 97,000 properties covering 490,000 acres of land have been taken over in this way. Among the more egregious land grabs is one by a Swiss investor. Reporters Christian Eriksson and Richard Brooks write:
A mile or so down the river is the chocolate-box village of Hambleden, backdrop to Midsomer Murders and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and generally described as “quintessentially English”. But when the 1,600-acre estate with its 40 brick and flint houses, pub and village stores was bought by Swiss foreign exchange dealer Urs Schwarzenbach in 2007, he acquired it through BVI company Hambleden Estates Ltd.
On Private Eye's excellent 94 podcast, we learn that David Cameron wants greater transparency over who owns what in Britain, but that there will be no compulsion for companies in tax havens to disclose what they own.
Why, exactly, might he be so reticent? We can only guess. Perhaps it is the fact that 16 of Europe's wealthiest hedge funds, located in tax havens, donated £6.5 million in the first period of the General Election campaign.