Press release | May 12, 2016

Anti-corruption summit sees bold moves in key areas, but a glaring blind spot in the tax havens

Global Witness spokespeople available for interview: +44 (0)7912 517147. 

“The UK government has recognised the dirty money problem in its property market and announced measures to tackle it. If these are swiftly enforced and fully resourced, they will go a long way to ensuring the UK is no longer a safe haven for the corrupt. But this progress just makes its blind spot on the tax havens all the more glaring - David Cameron simply has to make them open up if we’re to crack the corruption problem.” said Robert Palmer, campaigner at Global Witness. 

“We also welcome the leadership shown by the French government in committing to a public register of trusts. This is a world first and is a great step towards tackling the role trusts play in peddling secrecy.”

Below are Global Witness’ calls for the Summit, and reaction to announcements so far. 

For our full list of policy calls, see here:

  • The UK should require its tax havens to put the names of the people who own and control companies into the public domain, just as British companies are now required to do. However, only small steps forward have been agreed. The UK havens will collect information on the ultimate owners of companies, but only share it with UK law enforcement and some other countries.  

Reaction: “Research shows British tax haven companies are the favourite tool of the corrupt,” said Palmer.  “Some British tax havens committed to automatically share beneficial ownership information with law enforcement from a select number of [RS1] other countries. But those digging their heels in, such as the British Virgin Islands, are where the problem is worst.  Sharing information with law enforcement is a small step forwards but what’s really needed is for the information to be public for all to see,” [2] said [RS3] Palmer. 

  • Countries should commit to put the names of the people who own and control companies and trusts into the public domain for all to see.  Substantial progress has been made on this, with new commitments for company transparency from France, Nigeria, Afghanistan, New Zealand, Jordan, Indonesia, Ireland and Georgia [3], and with France [4] committing to make its register of trusts publicly available – a world first. 

Reaction: The progress made on shining a light on company ownership will be lost unless the ownership and control of trusts is also brought into the light.  It is therefore brilliant that France has committed to create the world’s first public registry of trusts.  Doing so puts pressure on the UK to do the same,” said Palmer.

  • The UK should legislate to prevent the corrupt from purchasing property in the UK, by requiring companies that own or buy UK property to make details of their beneficial owners public.  The UK government has committed to do this, not just for new purchases but also for people who have already bought property via a foreign company. 

Reaction: “The government has listened on this issue, and acted decisively.  So much money is currently laundered through UK property, and an area of British land more than three times the size of Greater London is owned by secret companies in offshore jurisdictions. If today’s measures are swiftly enforced and fully resourced, they will really help keep the dirty money out,” said Eleanor Nichol, Global Witness expert on corruption in the property sector.  

  • Governments to refuse to roll out the red carpet to the corrupt, by not granting visas or citizenship to corrupt individuals.  No commitments appear to have been made on this.

To arrange an interview with Global Witness, contact:



  • Oliver Courtney

  • Robert Palmer

Notes to editor:

[1]  Research carried out by the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative of the World Bank and UNODC.

[2]  Gibraltar, Anguilla, Montserrat and the Isle of Man recently announced that they would join the automatic exchange of beneficial ownership scheme.  It is not clear whether any additional UK tax havens signed up to this at the Summit. 

[3]  The Netherlands and Australia also committed to introduce public registers of company ownership and control; these are commitments that were announced recently.  Separately, South Africa also recently announced that it will create a public registry of company ownership and control. 

[4]  New decree issued by the French government on 11 May 2016

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