Press release / 10 Jul 2019

Open letter to Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP: Anti-money laundering legislation and media freedom

Dear Foreign Secretary,

As representatives of some of the leading media and civil society organisations investigating and exposing criminal and corrupt practices in the UK, and around the world, we warmly welcome the leadership of the UK Government in hosting an important summit on press freedom.

The success of this summit offers the opportunity for the UK government to set the gold standard for an environment that enables journalists to hold the powerful to account. Sadly, the government’s current approach to implementing a key piece of legislation to combat money laundering - the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5MLD) - does not meet this standard. It appears designed to frustrate journalists and researchers from accessing, and ultimately reporting on, vital information about the beneficiaries of the opaque system of financial trusts that have tax liabilities in the UK.

Investigative journalism has, in recent years, blown a hole in global financial secrecy that has been used to move illicit wealth, mask criminal activity or fund terror activities. From the Panama Papers, to the work of Daphne Caruana Galizia, news organisations and individual journalists are working to uncover the tide of dirty money flowing around the world. In Daphne’s case, she paid the ultimate sacrifice for this work.

As well as exposing the corruption of the rich and powerful, these journalistic investigations have real world public benefit. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), for example, recently stated that its “current portfolio of civil and criminal investigations resulting from the Panama Papers is forecast to yield over £190 million."

Under former Prime Minister David Cameron, the UK government led the way in seeking to combat illicit financial flows by creating more transparency as to the real owners of the financial structures, often used to launder criminal money. As Paul Caruana Galizia, Daphne’s son, recently said the best way to protect journalists is to act on the things they uncover. These efforts risk being undermined by the UK’s proposed implementation of 5MLD.

The Directive, updated following the Panama Papers revelations, unequivocally recognises the legitimate interest of journalists and civil society to access information about the true beneficiaries of trusts suspected of harbouring dirty money. However, the UK Government’s proposal for transposing this Directive into national law restricts this legitimate interest to see and report on this information by requiring journalists and researchers to present evidence of wrongdoing before accessing the register, completely undermining the objectives of 5MLD.

By submitting that evidence to HMRC to determine whether access to the register should be granted, it is possible that HMRC could trigger an investigation, which can often take many years, during which time, it is unlikely that any journalism or research could be published.

We are also concerned about negative connotations that the UK government attaches to journalists and researchers using the transparency created by the legislation to make "speculative enquiries". The ability for journalists to use the register for research is vital for the process of investigative reporting. The UK government’s new approach represents a reversal in its previous commitment to the transparency of taxable, asset holding entities.

As the UK seeks to be a global champion on press freedom it must show leadership, rather than being at the back of the pack. Calling for transparency around the world whilst frustrating access to key information at home does not represent leadership.

As this week’s conference will highlight, journalists are under growing pressure around the world from individuals and governments that do not want their misdeeds exposed to the public. The UK government cannot solve all of these pressures through one conference. But it can, and should, do all in its power to create an environment in the UK that supports the brave and courageous work done by individuals such as Daphne. We therefore call for the UK government to rethink its implementation of 5MLD, to ensure that the abuse of UK trusts for criminal and corrupt behaviour can be brought out of the shadows.

Yours sincerely,

Moussa Aksar, Directeur de Publication, L'Evénement, Niger
Yevgenia M. Albats, Editor-in-Chief & CEO, The New Times, Russia
Brigitte Alfter, ICIJ member, Denmark
Bill Alpert, Journalist, USA
Cecilia Anesi, Giulio Rubino, Lorenzo Bagnoli, Directors, IRPI, Italy
Rui Araújo, Reporter, TVI, Portugal
Iqbal Athas, Journalist, Sri Lanka
Edik Baghdasaryan, Hetq, Armenia
Caelainn Barr, Data projects editor, The Guardian, UK
Bill Birnbauer, Monash University, Australia
Jacob Borg, Times of Malta, Malta
Joop Bouma, Trouw, The Netherlands
Lars Bové, De Tijd, Belgium
Steve Bradshaw, Director and Journalist, Flaxmoor Ltd
Christian Broennimann, Tamedia, Switzerland
Richard Brooks, Journalist, Private Eye
Luc Bronner, Editor-in-Chief, Le Monde, France
Stefaans Brümmer, amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism
Oliver Bullough, Journalist and Author
Matthew Caruana Galizia, The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
Joaquin Castellón, LaSexta TV, Spain
Šarūnas Černiauskas, OCCRP, Lithuania
Kristof Clerix, Journalist, Knack, Belgium
Mike Davis, Director of Campaigns, Global Witness
Anuška Delić, Oštro, Slovenia
Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, Ghana Business News, Ghana
Guillermo Draper, Editor, Búsqueda, Uruguay
Marcos García Rey, El Confidencial, Spain
Juliette Garside, Investigations reporter, The Guardian, UK
Aurore Gorius, LesJours.fr, France
Herman Grech, Editor in Chief, Times of Malta
Duncan Hames, Acting Executive Director, Transparency International UK
Jyri Hännine, Finnish Broadcasting Company, Finland
John Hansen, Senior investigative reporter, Politiken, Denmark
Luke Harding, Journalist and Author, The Guardian, UK
Sue Hawley, Policy Director, Corruption Watch UK
Gavin Hayman, Executive Director, Open Contracting
Eliot Higgins, Founder, Bellingcat
Pavla Holcova, Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, Czech Republic
Ani Hovhannisyan, Hetq, Armenia
Shinovene Immanuel, The Namibian, Namibia
Franck Johannès, Deputy Editor, Le Monde, France
Mohammed Komani, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ)
Johannes Kr. Kristjansson, Reykjavik Media, Iceland
Karlijn Kuijpers, Platform Investico, Netherlands
Charles Lewis, Professor and Executive Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop, The American University School of Communication
Boyoung Lim, Reporter, Korea Centre for Investigative Journalism (KCIJ) –
Newstapa, South Korea
Fredrik Laurin Editor, Swedish Television, Sweden
Miles Litvinoff, National Coordinator, Publish What You Pay UK
Georg Mascolo, Head of the Joint Investigative Group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR, Germany
Nick Mathiason, Co-Director, Finance Uncovered
Yossi Melman, Journalist and Author, Israel
Eva van der Merwe, Anti-Corruption & Bribery Programme Director, International Senior Lawyers Project - UK
Marcel Metze, Editor-in-Chief, The Investigative Desk, The Netherlands
Hugo Alconada Mon, La Nación, Argentina
Hannes Munzinger Investigative Data Journalist, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany
Michael Nikbakhsh, profil magazine, Austria
Sean O’Neill, Chief Reporter, The Times
Frederik Obermaier, Investigative Journalist, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany
Bastian Obermayer, Head of Investigations, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany
James Oliver, producer, BBC Panorama, UK
Robert Palmer, Executive Director, Tax Justice UK
Miranda Parucic, OCCRP
Micael Pereira, Staff writer, Expresso, Portugal
Edouard Perrin, Rémi Labed, Jean-Pierre Canet, Martin Boudot, Informing Is Not a Crime (INPD), France
Gill Phillips, Editorial Legal Director, Guardian News & Media
Titus Plattner Investigative reporter, Tamedia, Switzerland
Paul Radu, Investigative reporter, OCCRP
Mabel Rehnfeldt, ICIJ member, Paraguay
Laurent Richard, Founder, Forbidden Stories, France
Fernando Rodrígues, Poder360, Brazil
Nina Selbo Torset, Aftenposten, The Netherlands
Jason Shea, Journalist, OCCRP
Fergus Shiel, Editor, Internatinal Consortium of Investigative Journalists, USA
Roman Shleynov, OCCRP, Novaya Gazeta, Russia
Leo Sisti, L’Espresso, Italy
Julia Stein, NDR, Germany
Jan Strozyk, ICIJ member, Germany
Zosia Sztykowski, Head of Policy, Open Ownership
Chris Taggart, CEO and co-founder, Open Corporates
Atanas Tchobanov, Bivol, Bulgaria
Jeroen Trommelen, Platform for Investigative journalism Investico, The Netherlands
Sylvain Tronchet, Investigative Journalist, Radio France
Pelin Ünker, Journalist, ICIJ member, Turkey
Dmitry Velikovskiy, OCCRP, Russia
Andy Verity, Economics correspondent, BBC News, UK
Ola Westerberg, TT News Agency, Sweden
Oliver Windridge, Senior Advisor for the UK, The Sentry
Jonny Wrate, Journalist, OCCRP
Oliver Zihlmann, Investigation Unit Tamedia, Switzerland
Blaž Zgaga, Freelance Journalist, Slovenia

cc. The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP

/ ENDS

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