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Briefing / 23 Sep. 2014

Anonymous Companies – The Story So Far

Momentum is gathering behind the global campaign to close the loopholes that allow the criminal and corrupt to cover their tracks.

Layers of paper companies provide legal smokescreens for people responsible for some very visible crimes like corruption, tax evasion and environmental destruction.

At Global Witness we’ve often described anonymous company ownership as “the worst problem you’ve never heard of”. Layers of paper companies provide legal smokescreens for people responsible for some very visible crimes like corruption, tax evasion and environmental destruction. So our argument goes that if we close this loophole, we will go a long way to fixing a lot of the problems they facilitate, which governments and law enforcement are spending lots of taxpayer money trying to stop. There’s a good example of the impact of this problem in this video we made:


Our proposed solution is pretty simple. Each country should have publicly accessible register of the real “beneficial owners” of companies, so law enforcement and others can trace criminal activity. This would not pose a threat to legitimate businesses, it actually helps them by knowing who they are dealing with – a report we put out in 2014 showed how scammers and fraudsters across the US were using anonymous companies to trick honest people and businesses. 

So it feels like common sense. But for a long time, nobody was that interested in fixing this problem. People were sympathetic, but firm changes didn’t look likely. A couple of years ago, things really started to move. This timeline sets out the key moments in the history of the campaign: