Blog | Dec. 5, 2019

The US just reached this anti-money laundering milestone

In October, the US House of Representatives took a historic step forward in company ownership transparency with passage of a bipartisan bill combating corruption and crime. This marks the first time a bill to effectively end anonymous shell companies has made its way out of a chamber of Congress.

The Corporate Transparency Act (H.R.2513), which passed out of the House on October 22nd, requires companies to disclose their true owners at the time the company is formed, and keep such information up to date.

It is a milestone that has been over a decade in the making. As it now awaits mark up in the Senate, movement is urgent in order to end anonymous company abuse in this country for good.

The use of anonymous companies to launder ill-gotten gains has long been exploited by criminals and the corrupt. Over the years, Global Witness has exposed and mapped the abuse of anonymous company ownership around the world, from a Mexican drug cartel which used anonymous companies in Oklahoma in a scheme to launder millions of dollars of drug money in the US, to a Louisiana Congressmember who used anonymous companies from Delaware and Louisiana to take almost half a million dollars in bribes.

For over a decade, our own investigations have shown how money launderers and corrupt officials have exploited this vulnerability in US anti-money laundering efforts for their own nefarious gain. Just this year, we revealed how the Congolese Presidential family used tainted money to buy a Trump apartment in New York City, showing the need for strong beneficial ownership legislation. 

2019 can be the year we end America’s role as a safe haven for dirty money through the use of shell corps. In Global Witness’ longstanding campaigns tackling money laundering and corruption, various bills have been introduced in Congress to address the scourge of anonymous companies. This is the first time one has passed through a chamber of Congress—and is now poised to have a real shot in the Senate.

It is telling that, in a time of partisan gridlock, a wide-reaching array of voices agree that action is needed. Federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations, human rights groups, national security interests, virtually the entire financial services industry, the business community and investors managing assets worth more than $855 billion have come together for this.

In Congress, the holiday recess is fast approaching. The Corporate Transparency Act needs to be advanced in the Senate, alongside another important piece of legislation, the COUNTER Act (H.R.2514), which would foster additional reforms to U.S. anti-money laundering measures. This joins a bill, introduced in September by a bipartisan group of eight Senators on the Banking Committee, containing similar beneficial ownership provisions, which could be the bill the Senate takes forward. 

2019 can be the year. The Senate must act swiftly and decisively to state that the abuse of our financial system to cheat justice, hurt Americans and rip off ordinary people is over.


  • Alexandria Robins

    Policy Advisor

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