Press Release / April 25, 2013

Global Witness welcomes UK Prime Minister’s move to end anonymous shell companies

Tackling this problem is crucial to anti-corruption and development efforts

Prime Minister David Cameron revealed today that the UK will be seeking action from the G8 to end the abuse of anonymous shell companies. He has called for information about who ultimately owns and controls companies (beneficial ownership) to be registered and made publicly available.

The ease with which criminals are able to hide their identities behind networks of anonymous companies facilitates state looting, money laundering and tax evasion on a massive scale. Billions of dollars have been stolen from poor countries in this way, often laundered through major financial jurisdictions like the UK and the US and the world’s largest banks. 

“The Prime Minister’s support for making information publicly available about who ultimately owns and controls companies is a very welcome move which would go a long way to curbing corruption, money laundering, drug trafficking, tax evasion and financial crime,” said Gavin Hayman, Director of Campaigns at Global Witness.

“Effective action by the G8 on anonymous shell companies will stem the haemorrhage of money from the poorest countries on the planet and reduce financial crime for us all,” Hayman continued.

The Prime Minister announced his support in a letter to the European Commission in which he urged European leaders to be in the vanguard of a global effort to crack down on aggressive tax avoidance and evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes. This move comes as he attempts to build momentum in the run up to the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June.

The Prime Minister called on governments to “break through the walls of corporate secrecy” by making companies’ beneficial ownership information public. This is the first time that the UK has gone on the record as supporting public registries of beneficial ownership.

Global Witness would also like to see action from the UK government to extend public registries of beneficial ownership information to its overseas territories, such as the British Virgin Islands, which are notorious for corporate secrecy.

“Global Witness has been calling on leaders to abolish the veil of secrecy around company ownership for over half a decade. Time and again our investigations have shown how corrupt politicians, arms traffickers, money launderers, tax evaders and even a company involved in Europe’s recent horsemeat scandal have been able to exploit loopholes in the financial system to hide their identities and remain undetected,” concluded Hayman.   



Robert Palmer on [email protected] or 0754 564 5406

Gavin Hayman on [email protected] or 0784 305 8756

Notes to editors:

  1. More information about the problem of anonymous shell companies, including the Global Witness ‘Idiots Guide to Money Laundering’ can be found on the Hidden Company Ownership page of the Global Witness website.
  2. A study by the World Bank on over 200 major corruption cases found that over 70% involved shell companies. The U.S. was the main jurisdiction where these were registered; the UK and its crown dependencies were second. These findings are contained in the report: Puppet Masters, carried out by the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (of the World Bank) and UNODC.
  3. Estimates from HMG itself suggest that having an open register of beneficial owners of companies would save the UK and its businesses about £300 million or so a year from reducing the complexity of their own financial due diligence and decreasing domestic financial crime.