Press release | Feb. 3, 2016

Congress moves to end abuse of secret companies following Global Witness investigation

Bipartisan legislation would help stamp out corruption, money laundering and tax evasion by curbing use of anonymously-owned companies in America.

Washington, DC – The U.S. Congress today introduced bipartisan legislation in response to a groundbreaking undercover investigation by advocacy group Global Witness. The exposé, which aired on CBS’ 60 Minutes and was covered by the New York Times, shines a light on how easily suspect money can flow into the U.S. via anonymously-owned shell companies.

The legislation, introduced by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12), Peter King (R-NY-2), Stephen Lynch (D-MA -8) and Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA-8), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) aims to end the use of anonymously-owned companies, which often act as vehicles for criminal enterprises and terrorism.  

“Anonymously-owned companies act as getaway cars for all sorts of criminals – this legislation will make life much harder for them,” said Stefanie Ostfeld, Acting Head of Global Witness’ U.S. office. “Swift passage of this bill will stop dictators, terrorists and drug traffickers from being able to legally hide their identities and their dirty money behind anonymously-owned American companies. It will help stop our financial system being used to launder the proceeds of crime.”

Passage of the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act would require companies to disclose their ultimate owners when the company is set up, and keep this information up to date. This would make it much harder for money launderers to hide their identity behind webs of shadowy companies to stash their ill-gotten gains in banks.

The move comes after a major investigation by Global Witness lifted the lid on how suspect funds enter the U.S. As shown Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes, a Global Witness investigator wearing a hidden camera met with 13 New York law firms and asked how them to get suspect money into the U.S. All but one gave us suggestions on how we might do it using anonymously owned companies and trusts, which can be very easily set up in America, and used to move suspect money. None of the lawyers took our investigator on as a client, and no money was actually moved. For more information, and the full context of the investigations see:

Global Witness has previously shown how anonymously-owned American companies allow a wide range of criminals to cheat justice and rip off ordinary people – from forcing vulnerable families into foreclosure to luring individuals from overseas into a human trafficking scheme that stretched across the U.S.

“Anonymously-owned companies are used in almost all crimes that generate big money, and America is at the heart of this problem,” said Ostfeld.  “By collecting information about the real owners of companies we can stop criminals from using companies to cover their tracks and usher in a new era of transparency. This is a big step forward.”