Press release | July 24, 2018

Groundbreaking analysis of the owners of UK companies uncovers serious money laundering risks

Today, Global Witness in collaboration with DataKind UK exposes how criminals and the corrupt could be exploiting loopholes in the UK company register.

Up to now, the UK Government has played a leading role in the fight against corruption. This pioneering register could make it much harder for criminals to launder dirty cash through UK companies, but it won’t fulfil its potential until the Government gives Companies House the resources and mandate for the job,” said Nienke Palstra, Anti-Corruption Campaigner at Global Witness.

As 43 countries follow suit, it’s time the UK showed the world just how powerful this data can be, by closing these loopholes and investigating the people who aren’t playing ball.”

Read the entire report here
Find out more about our methodology here

Taking advantage of the open data nature of the register Global Witness has developed an online tool for flagging risky companies, which reveals:

  • 345 companies have an owner who is a disqualified director
  • 390 companies have company officers or owners who are politicians
  • 7,848 companies share an owner, officer or registered postcode with a company suspected of having been involved in money laundering 

The analysis, the most comprehensive to date, exposes that while almost 3.6 million companies have declared at least one beneficial owner in the register, there are loopholes that are easy to exploit:

  • more than 335,000 companies [1] declare they have no beneficial owner (which is legal, if no individual owns more than 25% of the company) 
  • more than 10,000 companies declare a foreign company as their owner, with 72% of those linked to a secrecy jurisdiction (which means that anti-corruption organisations like Global Witness and members of the public cannot find out the real owner behind the company) 

The UK’s Anti-Corruption Champion, John Penrose MP said, "Britain may be a world leader when it comes to open and transparent company registers, so criminals, kleptocrats and oligarchs can’t hide their ill-gotten gains in dark corners anymore. But this report shows we can’t relax either. There’s still a long way to go, for Britain and every other country that’s serious about fighting corruption too."

The Government must stop accepting the information in the register at face value, sanction the companies who don’t comply with the rules and investigate those that pose money laundering risks.

Since the Government removed the paywall, the UK’s company register was accessed over 2 billion times in one year, demonstrating the significant and growing demand for this type of company information. None of the findings in ‘The Companies We Keep’ would have been possible without the open data format of the register.

All 28 EU countries, as well as the UK Overseas Territories will be required to set up similar public registers by 2020. The UK's Overseas Territories, in particular, include some of the world's most secretive tax havens.

[1] Includes companies and some forms of partnerships to which the PSC rules apply (e.g. LLPs, SLPs)



Notes to editor:

  • Anonymous companies have been at the heart of some of the biggest scandals of our time – including the Panama Papersand the Russianand Azerbaijani Laundromats - acting as the getaway cars for criminals all over the world. The UK’s register of Persons of Significant Control was designed to prevent this by bringing the real owners of a company into public view. 
  • According to the National Crime Agency, money laundering connected to the UK is estimated to run into the hundreds of billions each year.
  • To research a specific UK company and their Person of Significant Control, see the UK’s corporate register available here:  

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