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The Economist backs moves to stop wrong-doers from hiding their ill-gotten gains

23rd January 2012

Global Witness has long campaigned for companies to come clean about who actually owns them. In most countries in the world individuals can legally disguise their identities and their assets behind anonymous shell companies. This allows corrupt politicians, terrorists, organised criminals, among others, to hide their illicitly acquired wealth.

A leader that appeared in the Economist at the end of January 2012 called for a change in the law to prevent this abuse.

“Anyone registering a limited company should have to declare the names of the real people who ultimately own it, wherever they are, and report any changes. Lying about this should be a crime. Some dodgy places will try to hold out. But anti-money-laundering rules show international co-operation can work. You can no longer open an account at a respectable bank merely with a suitcase of cash. Let the same apply to starting a limited company.”

In the same issue The Economist published an article describing the scale of the problem and how difficult it has been to date to close this damaging loophole, with international institutions and national governments failing to take responsibility.

“The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the world’s main anti-money-laundering body, is revamping a set of 40 recommendations to tighten rules on everything from tax dodging to terrorist financing. But reaching agreement on changes to ownership rules was particularly tricky and progress has been modest […] The wheels will grind on: FATF will evaluate progress (more rigorously, it says) and name and shame laggards. The European Union will shortly start work on a new anti-money-laundering directive, its fourth and toughest to date. But for the time being, self-interest has trumped efforts to clean up company law.”