SHELL firms registered in Britain’s last colonies enabled global economic crimes worth £250 billion, a major new report has revealed.

Anti-corruption charity Transparency International took a deep dive in to 237 financial crimes - and found they had been facilitated by 1107 corporate entities formally headquartered in UK overseas territories.

The research comes amid heightened international frustration on lacklustre efforts to tackle money-laundering and tax evasion through secrecy jurisdictions officially under the British Crown.

Some territories, such as the British Virgin Islands or BVI, have been heavily criticised for allowing companies they register not to declare who owns them. Transparency said 92 per cent of the shell firms it uncovered enabling economic were from the BVI.

Nobody was available for comment at the BVI government’s office in London. Last year BVI Finance, the lobby for the islands’ financial industry, told The Herald that tax haven status was a “myth”.

Transparency said crimes using colonial shell firms were most common in Russia - accounting for 17 per cent of the total. Ukraine, Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan featured frequently too. Offences included bribery, procurement rigging and embezzlement.

Duncan Hames, Transparency’s UK policy director, said: “Our new analysis is a stark reminder of the damage wrought by anonymous companies registered in secrecy havens like the British Virgin Islands; these are not victimless crimes. When money is stolen from state budgets it is schools and health services for ordinary people that suffer.”

The secrecy made possible in the British Overseas Territories has been key to criminals across the world enjoying impunity for their actions. It does nothing to aid the reputation of financial centres to provide services and secrecy that enrich a corrupt global elite at the public’s expense.”

Ministers from overseas territories meet in London this week. Transparency wants ending secrecy on the agenda. MPs called for overseas territories to produce public registers of owners earlier this year. This has not happened.

Shell firms from overseas territories also regularly appear as partners in Scottish limited partnerships and other UK shell companies, used as wraparounds to give tax haven structures a respectable front.