‘Baffling’ new company registrations in Northern Ireland

Eighty-five Wellesley Avenue in the Malone Road area of ​​Belfast is a terraced red brick which has been divided into units which are let for student accommodation.

Unit 2, which has four bedrooms, was listed on the Propertypal.com website last year as available for £1,000 a month. It was rented out in August 2021 by “four little students from different parts of Northern Ireland”, according to Trevor Breadon, who managed the rental on behalf of the owner, who is a friend.

On January 24 this year a company called Lisa Grant Ltd was incorporated, with Unit 2, 85 Wellesley Avenue listed as the registered address in a filing submitted to the Northern Ireland Registrar of Companies.

According to the document, the company is owned by a Chinese national residing in the UK called Zian Liang, who is also its sole director. His “service address”, according to the file, is the student flat in Belfast.

The activity to be pursued by the new company, according to the articles of incorporation, is the manufacture of breakfast cereals and cereal-based foods, the retail sale of watches and jewelery in specialized stores and the sale retail through mail order houses and the Internet. The company has no internet presence and The Irish Times could not locate its owner.

On March 10, something eerily similar happened at 30 Church Street, Ballymoney, Co Antrim. The address includes a store on the ground floor and offices on the two upper floors. The shop is home to the Nom Nomz Vape Store, which has been around for about four years, according to Sam Ferris, who works at the shop.

The office is empty and is advertised online as available for rent of £80 per week. A spokeswoman for McAlfee Properties, of Ballymoney, said they had been looking for a new tenant for the property for about a month.

On March 10 this year, a company called Patrick Grant Orla Grant Ltd was formed, with the incorporation document listing the Church Street address as the registered address of the new entity. Patrick Grant Orla Grant Ltd has one shareholder/director, Xingxing Zhao, who is a Chinese national residing in the UK, according to the document. His service address is 30 Church Street, Ballymoney. Mr Ferris told the Irish Times he had never heard of the company or Xingxing Zhao, while the spokeswoman for McAlfee Properties said she knew nothing of the company or its shareholder.

According to its Articles of Incorporation, Patrick Grant Orla Grant Ltd was established to engage in the manufacture of upholstery fabrics, wholesale of furniture, carpets and lighting equipment, and retail through mail-order houses or on the Internet. The company has no internet presence and it was not possible to contact the shareholder.

On 21 March this year a new company called Wirz Ludwig was incorporated and the Companies Registrar of Northern Ireland was advised that 2 Church Street, Ederney, Co Fermanagh was its registered address. The address is an empty storefront that was a hairdresser until the start of the pandemic. Now the empty building is on the market and the Propertypal.com website advises those interested to contact Locate estate agents if they wish to be informed of the rent sought. A spokeswoman for Locate Estate Agents said the property had been left empty by its local owners during the pandemic, before being put back on the market about a month ago.

She had never heard of Wirz Ludwig Ltd, which the Registrar of Companies had been told would be engaged in the manufacture of kitchen furniture, the wholesale of kitchen furniture, rugs, hardware lighting and office furniture, as well as retail through mail order houses. and Internet. The company does not have an internet presence and its owner could not be contacted.

Common characteristics

The three companies above are on a list of around 70 entities which have come to the attention of The Irish Times because they share common characteristics such as having corporate names that include first and surnames, registered addresses that have recently appeared on property rentals. websites, and have been incorporated since the beginning of the year (similar companies continue to be registered).

Almost all of the businesses have owners who are Chinese nationals residing in the UK. The companies were brought to the attention of The Irish Times by Graham Barrow, a British banking expert who, among other activities, campaigns for more transparent business registers and has an interest in automated regulatory and crime checks financial.

Addresses associated with businesses range from small office studios in old buildings in residential areas to gleaming new office buildings such as the Grade A East Tower of the Lanyon Plaza development in Belfast. Some of the addresses are those of business parks or office buildings, the address not being specific enough to identify the particular building or office which is the registered address.

Asked what he thought might be behind the companies, Mr Barrow said it was ‘a real baffle’ but there had to be something behind it. “I wish I could give you a sensible answer to that question. It is clear that it is not something simple.

Install online

All of the companies reviewed by The Irish Times had their incorporation document filed by Companies Made Simple, of Wenlock Road, London. Companies Made Simple makes it easy to set up UK businesses quickly online at competitive rates.

“I started a business for the first time last night and it literally took me 10 minutes,” says a testimonial quoted on the site. “It was very easy to do and I have already received my documents by email.”

“Over a million UK businesses have been launched since 2002,” the website says. “You are in good hands.”

Companies Made Simple is part of Britain’s Moneypenny Group, an international business which had a turnover of £48m (€58m) in 2020. The group’s main businesses include telephone answering services, external switchboards and live chat services. . In an email response to a request for comment, Companies Made Simple said it would fully investigate the matters brought to its attention by The Irish Times.

“We can assure you that we take this very seriously,” the statement said, adding that the company was a registered agent of Companies House formations.

The training process it enabled was entirely online and completed by the client, the statement said. “We can confirm that we perform electronic verification and/or certification of government-issued photo IDs to verify the identity of all of our customers.

“With respect to address information and evidence provided by the client, these are transmitted and accepted by Companies House in good faith.”

Companies House had limited powers to query and delete any information that might appear inaccurate, fraudulent or suspicious in the public register, the statement said.

A white paper published in the UK in February plans to give new discretionary powers to Companies House to query, search for evidence, delete and modify information on the public register, the statement said. “It’s a change we fully support.”

A request for comment from the Belfast Department of Economy has been forwarded to Companies House UK, which said it was unable to comment.

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