THE UK Government has been accused of doing “too little, too late” to tackle dirty money as it announced a much awaited crackdown on Scotland’s notorious limited partnerships or SLPs.

Conservative ministers said they were determined to stamp out abuse of the once obscure corporate entity, dubbed one of the world’s “money-laundering vehicles of choice” by anti-corruption campaigners.

The government has been talking of a crackdown ever since SLPs - which for years provided the same kind of anonymity as Swiss bank accounts - after such firms were used in some of the biggest ever attempts to move and hide the proceeds of crime.

The CBI has warned that abuse of SLPs have hurt Scotland’s reputation overseas with “Scottish company” in some nations now as much a byword for sleaze in the same way as a Zurich numbered account.

However, the UK’s final package of efforts to improve SLP transparency, announced on Monday, failed to impress campaigners and money-laundering experts.

It failed to force SLPs to have a bank account or physical representative in the UK , as sought by anti-corruption campaigners.

It said the firms - most of which already have a registered office address in Scotland - must have a UK address and an contactable agent, although this could be overseas.

Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP who has led the campaign for reforms in the House of Commons, said: “All steps to improve transparency around SLPs are, of course, welcome.

“However, the proposed reforms still fall far short of what is necessary to close the many loopholes which exist.

“The UK Government proposals are too little, much too late: billions have already been laundered through SLPs while campaigners have demanded action. I’m unconvinced these piecemeal proposals will be sufficient to the task.”

Ms Thewliss added: “These changes continue to allow SLPs to have mailboxes as a UK address rather than having a UK bank account, which would be a tighter control. Allowing overseas agents, perhaps with lower standards, to be involved in the process does nothing to ensure the rigour of the system.”

The MP, meanwhile, argued Britain’s under-resourced corporate registry Companies House remained unable to police its own data. No criminal action has been made against SLPs which have ignored 2017 rules under which they had to name a Person of Significant Control or PSC.

Ms Thewliss said: “The lack of commitment to actually enforcing the rules is also breathtaking - to date, no fines have been issued for failing to register a PSC, but we know that this is an ongoing problem.

“The UK Government probably think they can hide this woefully inadequate announcement under the cloud of Brexit chaos this week.”

The UK Government did say that its SLP reforms would come ahead of further efforts to bolster Companies House. Minister Lord Duncan said: “We continue to take the abuse of SLPs very seriously and will do everything necessary to crack down on crime lords exploiting them to launder dirty money. This latest package will deliver greater transparency and more stringent checks. It builds on measures we’ve already brought in to close loopholes in their use while ensuring legitimate companies can continue to choose SLPs as a way to invest in the UK.

Richard Smith, a money-laundering expert, said: “There is nothing in these proposals that suggests Whitehall has just spent the best part of two years consulting on the subject. The failure to grasp the scale and nature of SLP abuse is startling. The SLP reform process remains at square one.”

The key UK Government proposals are:

• Those registering Limited Partnerships must demonstrate they are registered with an official anti-money laundering supervised agent, such as an accountant or a lawyer, or an overseas equivalent;

• The Limited Partnership must demonstrate an ongoing link to the UK, for example by keeping its principal place of business in the UK;

• All Limited Partnerships must submit a confirmation statement at least every 12 months to Companies House to ensure their information is accurate and up to date;

• Companies House will be given powers to strike off dissolved Limited Partnerships and Limited Partnerships which are not carrying on business.

The Government also said it would impose new reporting requirements for Limited Partnerships in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This will confirm that the information they have placed on the register is up to date and correct.

Last year, the UK Government introduced laws requiring SLPs to report their beneficial owner and make their ownership structure more transparent.

Officials link this move with a fall of the number of new SLPs being registered from their peak.

Others link the relative decline in new SLPs to measures in Latvia to ban anonymous shell companies from having bank accounts.

The latest announcement comes after experts at Financial Action Task Force or FATF - a body set up by the G7 group of advanced economies to tackle serious global criminality - recommended action on SLPs.

Scandals involving SLPs - and other UK firms, including English and Scottish limited liability partnerships (LLPs)- have included the multi-billion-dollar Russian Laundromat. The abuse of British shell firms was exposed earlier thus year in the Estonian branch of Danske Bank.

Financial crime expert Graham Barrow said he was surprised there was no mention of LLPs. He said: “Absolutely no mention of LLPs – and we’ve seen a resurgence of the use of these as the use of SLPs has started to drop.

“The broader package of reforms has no doubt, at least in part, been prompted more by the criticism in the FATF report than any great desire by the government to do the right thing – otherwise they would have done so long before now.

“Against a backdrop of chaotic Brexit negotiations, massive political uncertainty and a potential vote of confidence, second referendum or general election. This doesn’t leave much room for confidence that any of this will actually happen in the short term.”

Mr Barrow added: “Until we get the detail needed to see if any of these potential reforms might actually work, my fear is the time required to put them in place along with the existing lack of human and financial resources being applied to the problem, simply leaves the door open for the criminals to continue their activity.

“And if they see this door closing, they will no doubt have thoroughly examined the premises to work out where to open the next one.”

Experts did welcome measures to strike off insolvent SLPs. It is almost impossible to identify if an SLP is trading and some - “zombie SLPs” - have been reanimated after their partners officially announced their dissolution.

Lobbies representing City financiers and Scottish legal firms have warned against any reforms which hurt the legitimate use of SLPs - as tax-efficient investment vehicles.

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “The UK has always had world leading corporate standards making us a dependable place to invest and start and grow a business. We are committed to continually enhancing our business environment and as part of that we constantly keep under review our governance arrangements – making sure that people have confidence in our corporate standards.

“These proposals will increase transparency, by ensuring these arrangements can still be used legitimately to invest by pension funds and investors while preventing abuse.

“The UK is taking strong action in the international fight against money laundering and today’s proposals will increase best practice amongst businesses.”