All aboard! There's now a 'kleptocrats' tour of London's luxury properties

Welcome to the 'kleptocrats' tour of London luxury homes
Welcome to the 'kleptocrats' tour of London luxury homes

First came the facts. A March 2015 report from NGO Transparency International revealing nearly one-in-ten Westminster properties and over 7 percent of those in Kensington and Chelsea belong to offshore companies. This along with the revelation that £180 million ($260 million) worth of U.K. property has been brought under criminal investigation for corruption since 2004.

March 2016's Panama Papers' leak then brought famous personalities to the statistics, matching them with extravagant properties in some of London's most desirable post codes.

But as tangible experiences can be more arresting, there is now the Kleptocracy Bus tour organized by The Campaign for Legislation Against Money Laundering in Property by Kleptocrats (ClampK). Founded by anti-corruption activist Roman Borisovich, the organization shines an accusatory light on those said to be dealing in illicit funds. Service providers – such as lawyers or estate agents who supposedly facilitate the channeling of ill-gotten gains for their less-than-white clients, often into London property – also come under scrutiny.

The three-hour tour begins alongside the Houses of Parliament at Whitehall and passes through areas such as Belgrave Square, which is minutes from the royal residence of Buckingham Palace and Knightsbridge, which hosts the capital's famous department store and tourist hotspot, Harrods.

Properties are pointed out along the route, as journalists and politicians on board are regaled with back histories of how their owners emerged as multi-millionaires or billionaires from the cut-throat shake-out of ex-USSR industries and companies following the state's collapse in 1991.

The latest round of tours is timed to coincide with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's Anti-Corruption Summit, hosted in London on May 12.

Since the PM's speech in July 2015, at which he pledged to stomp out corruption and break its link with U.K. property, the government has launched a series of consultations and proposals aimed at taking concrete action to address the problem.

Sylvain Sonnet | Getty Images

From this summer all U.K.-registered companies will have to publicly reveal their ultimate beneficial owners and last month it was announced that all companies in British overseas territories and crown dependencies will have to do the same. Although – to the extreme disappointment of many campaigners - the latter list will only be available to law enforcement agencies - not to the general public.

According to some, including Tom Mayne, an investigator at campaign group NGO Global Witness, this proposal does not go far enough:

"We hope to see all real owners placed on public record so everyone can discover who actually owns the properties currently held by secret offshore companies."

But given the complexity involved with unraveling existing highly complicated ownership structures, wouldn't many of those whom the legislation aims to expose simply find a way around it?

Mayne continues: "A law is only as strong as the implementation and we need to see people who break the law properly punished and the necessary resources available to check the information."

Progress also faces another obstacle in the form of staunch resistance from some overseas territories – notably the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the registration locale of around half of the companies cited in the Mossack Fonseca leak – to countenance the idea of even a register only available to law enforcers. This implies the hope of a public register may potentially be a complete non-starter.

Panama Papers scandal has zero impact on us: Panama’s vice-finance minister
An activist clutching a suitcase stuffed with fake money demands greater transparency in new legislation on April 13, 2016 in Berlin following the first Panama Papers leak.
Panama Papers sequel reveals details of over 200,000 offshore entities
'Consequences' for Panama if no improvement: OECD’s Gurria

However, Roman Borisovich, believes the U.K. government should not wait for consent. Speaking to CNBC, he noted: "If BVI doesn't want to comply with the rules that are acceptable to the other overseas territories and crown dependencies then David Cameron knows exactly what to do. It's called 'order of council'. Joint Ministerial Council can pass an order and it will be obligatory for the BVI to implement it."

And would pursuing the U.K. service providers make a difference?

Borisovich believes so: "Absolutely. We expect the government to announce tougher criminal penalties for the enablers. We need to see cases where these professionals are brought to justice and are punished for their assistance in laundering millions of pounds and bringing them onshore."

So, is he hopeful about what the U.K. government is willing and able to achieve in its well-publicized fight against corruption?

Borisovich concludes: "The proposals themselves, they are half-measures. Whether the government can make a fully-functioning legislative change out of them will be decided in the next few months, partially in the summit."