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United Kingdom – Revealing the True Owners of Anonymous Companies

Reino Unido: Descubriendo los verdaderos dueños de las empresas anónimas

Whether helping criminals launder cash, allowing terrorists to shift money, or providing a vehicle for the fantastically wealthy to avoid taxes, anonymous companies are the go-to tool for hiding money. The World Bank estimates that 70 percent of corruption cases involve such structures. The City of London, described as one of the best places in the world to set up a company and hide who owns it, has been a key node in this nexus of secrecy.

To untangle the mess, the UK government passed beneficial ownership legislation requiring companies to disclose who ultimately owns and controls them. As part of its 2013-15 OGP action plan, the UK government created the “People with Significant Control” (PSC) register, a database that publicly lists information on individuals who own or control companies. The government took a collaborative approach to building the registry, holding consultations with civil society and business, while using the wisdom of the crowd to spot errors in the registry and drive improvements. The registry is now accessed more than twenty thousand times a day. Activists and journalists have uncovered widespread malfeasance, exposing scores of senior politicians, seventy-six people on the U.S. sanctions list, and hundreds of others who are barred from owning UK companies.

According to the UK’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) report, the beneficial ownership register had a ‘ripple effect,’ with over twenty countries now having made beneficial ownership transparency commitments through their OGP action plans, including Norway, Nigeria, Armenia and Kenya. In December 2017, the EU agreed on amendments to the 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD), which included a requirement that all member states make beneficial ownership information available via a public register (although a small fee might apply). Finally, a crucial milestone was the vote by the British Parliament in April 2018 to require the UK overseas territories (BOTs) to establish public registers of beneficial owners.In June 2019, the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man announced that they would introduce public registers by 2023.

Photo Credit: Deutsche Bank

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