FOR years Scotland has been marketed around the world as a tax haven, as jurisdiction with all the corporate secrecy of a Belize or a Panama but also the respectability of a Sweden or a Germany.

At the centre of such advertising is a single kind of corporate entity, a Scottish limited partnership or SLP, a firm whose owners, provided they hide behind shell companies in a more traditional fiscal paradise, can get away with both being secret and paying no taxes.

Herald View: Scandal of our tax haven status

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Nobody noticed this booming little industry until two years ago when it emerged such SLPs were among shell companies used to loot $1 billion from banks in Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries.

Now Scottish firms routinely form part of money-laundering and tax evasion kits openly offered online. Customers can choose between a menu of, say, Scottish, English or Canadian firms with fake owners, usually corporate entities in traditional fiscal paradises.

For an extra fee you will get power of attorney over all the firms concerned and their patsy directors and the choice of what amounts to an anonymous bank account in Latvia or Estonia to boot. Such a kit can cost just £1600. The registration fee for an SLP is £20.

Herald View: Scandal of our tax haven status

Those manufacturing off-the-peg shell companies are not responsible, in law, for what their customers do with the entities.

But Scottish politicians are alarmed enough to ask counterparts in Westminster to plug the loophole that makes SLPs so attractive to those wishing to hide their wealth.

Today’s news that 120 Scottish firms, all but four SLPs, were used to flush billions out of Russia using the now infamous “Laundromat” will add to those worries.

We may never know exactly how much dirty money was drained through the accounts of nominally Scottish businesses that probably only ever existed on paper.

Herald View: Scandal of our tax haven status

Our data comes from several years worth of investigation by the the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an alliance of journalists across the Continent that first uncovered the Laundromat in 2014.

Banking records obtained by OCCRP suggest just four Scottish limited companies, now dissolved, accounted for £4bn of laundered dirty money at today’s exchange rates. Britain, as The Herald revealed earlier this year, has just six officials responsible for policing its giant register of nearly 4 million companies and other firms.

British “offshore” firms, including SLPs, are marketed overseas as “prestige” products. Criminals seem lured by the UK’s mix of soft-touch regulation and a reputation for fair play.

Paul Radu, of OCCRP, who is based in Bucharest, Romania, has seen UK firms crop up time and time again in his investigations.

He said: “For years now, British companies, limited liability partnerships and limited partnerships have been central to some of the biggest fraud cases in Eastern Europe.

“They provided the perfect tool for criminals who used them for stealing billions of dollars and who hid behind the lack of disclosure requirements both in Scotland and England.”

Herald View: Scandal of our tax haven status

Until recently, this did not seem to concern UK ministers. One, Simon Kirby, last week in the House of Commons told an SNP MP, Roger Mullin, that he did not believe SLPs were used in the Laundromat.

Mr Mullin said: “This was a quite extraordinary admission that the Government does not realise what has been going on”.

The Guardian this weekend first revealed that perhaps half the Laundromat’s money had gone through UK corporate entities.

At least two of the UK entities found by The Herald in OCCRP papers were familiar. Now defunct SLPs Sunrise Cotton and MetalForum were also named in the Moldovan fraud probe.