The current financial system makes it simple to hide and move suspect funds around the world. You can quickly and easily set up layer upon layer of paper companies, crossing borders and jurisdictions and making it almost impossible for law enforcement to track down the real human being behind the money. Corrupt politicians, tax evaders, terrorists, drug gangs, fraudsters and other criminals are all able to cover their tracks in this way.
Global Witness wants to fix this loophole, in its efforts to tackle the root causes of corruption, poverty and lots of other problems.
Our advocacy calls for governments to create public registries of the real owners of companies and trusts, so that law enforcement, businesses, NGOs and ordinary citizens know who they’re dealing with.
Following years of campaigning by Global Witness, alongside other CSOs, journalists and parliamentarians we have now begun to see real change in the fight against anonymous company ownership. In 2016 the UK introduced its Persons of Significant Control Register that reveals who’s behind UK based companies – but enforcement of this register remains patchy and we continue to campaign to make this as effective as possible.
However, this was just half the story with anonymous companies based overseas – in particular in the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies – still being used to launder money around the world. After further campaigning, in 2019 we saw the UK’s Crown Dependencies commit to company transparency, whilst the UK Parliament has moved to require the same in the Overseas Territories. Our efforts in the US have also reaped reward with a bill passing through the House of Representatives in June 2019.
Until the use of anonymous companies to launder wealth – often stolen from the poorest parts of the world – is put to bed we will continue to keep up the pressure, in particular in countries like the UK where company ownership has too often been abused by the corrupt.
In 2014, Global Witness Founder Charmian Gooch was awarded the TED prize in support of her campaign to end anonymous companies, garnering support from law enforcement and business leaders worldwide. This is an issue whose time has come – we must all push for transparency to become the norm.