New EU rules are 'historic step in the fight against corruption'

By agency reporter
December 17, 2017

On 15 December 2017, the EU agreed new rules to reveal the true owners of EU companies and trusts connected to the EU, through changes to the EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive. This was in response to last year’s Panama Papers revelations. The changes will introduce public registers of the beneficial owners of companies in the EU, but made little progress on transparency of trusts, with no public registers and no guarantees that anti-corruption campaigners or journalists would have access to the information.

Responding to the announcement Murray Worthy from Global Witness said:

On companies: “Today’s agreement is a historic step in the fight against corruption. Publicly revealing the real owners behind EU companies will help stop anonymous companies acting as the ‘getaway cars’ for corruption, tax evasion, drug trafficking and arms trading.  The European Parliament should be congratulated for pushing for an ambitious deal in the face of opposition from countries like the UK, Luxembourg, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.”

Trusts: “Today’s deal will make it much harder for the criminal and corrupt to use EU companies, but trusts are an even better ‘getaway car’. They are the ultimate black box - so secretive that even the taxman and the police can’t see who is behind them.  Despite numerous scandals showing their use in cases of corruption and tax evasion, the deal reached today will do almost nothing to tackle this.”

On EU implementation: “The real test will be in how the new transparency rules are implemented by the 28 EU countries. For too long, EU countries have dragged their heels in the fight against money laundering and the European Commission must take strong action against laggards. Going further, countries should publish beneficial ownership data free-of-charge and in open-data format, and avoid a patchwork of different registers across the EU.”

On UK Overseas Territories: “The EU has set the new global standard for corporate transparency. These changes pile on pressure for the UK’s tax havens like the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands to set up similar public registers, and put an end to their role as financial playgrounds for the corrupt and tax evaders. This raises the stakes ahead of key votes in Parliament in early 2018 that would force these UK Overseas Territories to introduce similar public registers of beneficial ownership.”

On the US: “The EU has further raised the bar for corporate transparency, making the failure of the United States (US) Government to act on beneficial ownership transparency even more concerning. The US has been found to be one of the most popular places for the corrupt to incorporate a company anonymously, and as it stands, the law makes it far too easy for corrupt officials and other crooks to use these anonymous companies to move dirty money into and out of the US. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the US that would seek to ensure companies formed in the US disclose their real owners. At a minimum, Congress should ensure that this legislation is strengthened to so that the right information is collected, is made available to the stakeholders that need it, and is kept up to date.” 

* Global Witness


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