Fighting phantom firms

We’ve been having some fun with phantom firms since we launched our petition last week. Spooky Friday the 13th tweets, blogs about Michael Jackson

But getting a law changed is pretty serious business, and we have to use all the methods and channels available to us to keep up the pressure.

Vince Cable MP, in his role as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has asked the UK public for their views on how we can make our businesses more transparent and trustworthy. As part of the consultation, there’s a question included on whether information about who owns and profits from companies and trusts should be made available to the public – basically exactly what we’re calling for.

We, along with many organisations working on transparency and accountability, will submit our own thoughts and ideas. But if even a few hundred members of the public make their support for public registries known, it could make all the difference.

That’s why, if you have just 5 minutes to spare today or over the weekend, we really need you to send a quick email saying that you support this information being made public – so we can really hold corrupt businesses to account for their actions.

Just send an email with your thoughts to [email protected] by Monday.

We’ve outlined some arguments you might like to include below:

Public registries reduce the compliance costs to financial institutions.  As the Chief Executive of the British Bankers Association wrote, a public registry of beneficial ownership “would help accountants, lawyers and banks, who could use it to aid their due diligence procedures.”

Public registries raise the probability of detection of crime and reduce the costs for law enforcement.  Government entities are not sufficiently staffed, funded, and trained to carry out due diligence reliably and effectively.  In Britain, only about 0.3% of the 280,000 annual reports of suspicious transactions are investigated by authorities.

Public registries ensure that confidential information is protected and only appropriate information is shared.  Relevant information is not currently accessible to law enforcement authorities without a subpoena or summons, and cannot be checked by agencies carrying out due diligence on arms sales, export controls, government contracting, and oversight investigations.

Public registries are more cost effective. There are virtually no added costs to making a list public, once it is compiled. A public list avoids some duplication of effort, as multiple institutions carry out investigations of the same clients for each transaction.

Public registries help developing countries to track down stolen assets.  The process of mutual legal assistance is complicated, expensive and time-consuming.  Without a registry, it could take law enforcement years to track down who owns a company; if the registry is kept private, there could be a long backlog of information requests which would need to be prioritised, or extra staff would be required to respond to inquiries.  Evidence might be provided too late for successful prosecution.

Public registries allow the public to hold abusers accountable for their actions. 

People have a right to know who they’re doing business with, and what’s being done in their name.  If you don’t know who you’re doing business with, you could inadvertently expose yourself or your company to excessive risk.


You can also download the full discussion paper.


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