THOUSANDS of secretly owned Scottish firms face being shut down under a major UK Government drive to tackle money-laundering by Vladimir Putin’s oligarch cronies.

Under proposals unveiled on Monday, British officials would get powers to strike off increasingly notorious Scottish limited partnerships or SLPs if they fail to comply with new transparency rules.

Tory ministers on Sunday announced they would crack down on the entities - once dubbed “Britain’s home-grown secrecy vehicles” - amid renewed focus on Russian laundering after the Salisbury attacks.

As The Herald revealed last year, more than 100 SLPs were used as part of one of the most elaborate schemes to remove money out of Russia ever exposed, the giant $20 billion laundromat.

Writing in yesterday’s Herald, Business Minister Andrew Griffiths thanked this paper for its investigations in to SLPs. He said such firms were “ being abused to carry out all manner of crimes abroad – from foreign money laundering to arms dealing”. Reforms announced include making sure an SLP has some concrete connection to Scotland and that it is created by a bona fide company formation agent.

On Monday detailed proposals added that the registrar - Companies House - should be allowed to strike off SLPs. Right now such firms exist forever, even if they dissolve themselves. Some, as The Herald has reported, have even come back to live as “zombie SLPs.

HeraldScotland: NICE PINT: Prime Minister David Cameron with Andrew Griffiths MP.

Andrew Griffiths with David Cameron

Striking off would clear such entities - and those which do not declare an owner - off the national register, forcing them to shut down.

There are as many as 18,000 SLPs currently registered which are either dead or which have failed to reveal their owners.

Opposition MPs and campaigners gave a very cautious welcome to the latest round of reforms but believe a more comprehensive shake-up of Britain’s corporate system is required.

Alison Thewliss, an SNP MP, has already warned that enforcement is the key. She added: “At the moment, I don’t believe there are the staff or resources to do this.”

Striking off could get rid of a legacy of bad SLPs - which may already have been used to to commit or conceal crime.

Steve Goodrich, research manager at anti-corruption group Transparency International warned such a move may only get those criminals too “lazy” to find a workaround.

He said: “It’s not a silver bullet. The risk is you just tick every box and go through the motions but still end up with something that is essentially a criminal enterprise.”

If the government wants to create a “hostile environment", he added, it has other things to do such as really looking at the regulation of formation agencies, beefing up the checks Companies House does on information, firming up “substandard” anti-money-laundering checks and focusing on British offshore territories whose companies often stand behind entities like SLPs.

As The Herald research showed in 2016, just five company formation agencies dominate the market for off-the-shelf SLPs which are bluntly advertised in the former Soviet Union alongside Latvian bank accounts as part of a kit for money-laundering.

Latvia is taking radical action against SLPs and other shell firms, forcing its banks to stop dealing with them.