LARGE swathes of Braintree and Witham are owned by offshore companies, it can be revealed.

New Land Registry documents reveals foreign companies have spent £124,289,038 in the last 15 years in a total of 117 purchases.

Many have been snapped up by busi- nesses based in countries including Panama; Jersey; Guernsey; Switzerland and British Virgin Islands, which have become known as tax havens.

However, there is no suggestion the companies named have avoided tax as a result.

In Braintree, George Yard Shopping Centre was previously registered in the name of offshore company O Twelve George Yard, based in Guernsey, and was bought for £28,500,000 in 2007 along with land on the west side of 23 Bank Street.

Centre manager Brenda Baker: “George Yard was bought by Threadneedle UK, which runs from the UK, in June last year.

“Generally, offshore companies are administered here.

“It’s such common practice and it’s not the first time we have been sold by an offshore company.

“We are big enough to be a shopping centre and small enough to be an acceptable amount of money to be bought.

“It keeps life interesting.”

The property information was released by the Land Registry after Freedom of Information requests from the magazine Private Eye, which has called for greater transparency after some purchases made elsewhere in the UK from offshore companies were linked to money laundering.

There were 41 property and land purchases in Braintree, 39 in and around Halstead, 22 in Witham, 12 in Coggeshall and Kelvedon, along with three at undisclosed addresses.

They include Tabor House, a development of 19 luxury apartments set in the former Braintree County High School, which is registered to Sammi Developments in the Cayman Islands and was bought for £756,000 plus VAT.

Graham Butland, leader of Braintree Council, said he was amazed at the sums involved.

But he said: “Tax avoidance is legitimate and therefore, providing the companies or people are not evading tax they are not committing any crime.

“I’m delighted that the money has been invested in the district and would be quite happy to have double that, it brings jobs and I’m happy for that to take place.

“I’m amazed at the amount of money, it’s surprising.

“If someone knocked at my door and said they wanted to invest that much money in Braintree I would bite their hand off, providing it was not illegal.”