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UK Government cracks down on Phantom Firms

The Prime Minister today announced that the UK is cracking down on ‘phantom firms’ – secretive companies used by international criminals and corrupt businesses to hide money and rip off governments.

In a speech at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London, David Cameron confirmed that the UK will introduce a public register of who owns and controls companies.

These anonymous shell companies play a central role in laundering and channelling funds, concealing behind a veil of secrecy the identity of corrupt individuals and irresponsible businesses involved in activities, including tax evasion, terrorist financing, and the trafficking of drugs and people.

ONE’s Europe Executive Director Adrian Lovett said:

“This is a really important moment in the fight against corruption. David Cameron has made life much more difficult for the criminal and corrupt who exploit secrecy around company ownership. Making information about who owns and controls companies publicly available will give citizens and journalists in developing countries access to the data they need to follow the money and root out corruption.

“As we take forward this challenge to crack down on corruption, we need the same determination to tackle trusts as we’ve seen here on companies. Until trusts are part of the package we risk closing one door to corruption while leaving a back window wide open. The G8 countries agreed in June to crack down on the abuse of trusts for laundering money. The Prime Minister has today shown leadership on pushing for transparency. We call on him now to take the fight to Europe and push for public disclosure of information about who owns and controls companies and trusts, as part of the EU anti-money laundering directive.

“Cracking down on ‘phantom firms’ will help stamp out behaviour that robs governments, in both developed and developing countries, of resources that might otherwise be invested in improving public services and stimulating inclusive economic growth.”

The commitment to implement a public register of company ownership is part of the UK’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, which also includes a very welcome commitment to implement EU law on extractives transparency in 2014.

Notes to editors

1.     ONE this week launched a campaign to highlight the scandal of phantom firms. More information is available at www.stash-the-cash.com

2.     ONE’s brief on why we are calling for action to tackle phantom firms is available here

3.     ONE is calling for the UK Government to commit to make information about who owns and controls companies, trusts and similar legal vehicles established in the UK, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, public.

4.     Making information public about who owns and controls companies and trusts will:

  • Give citizens and journalists in developing countries access to the data they need to follow the money and root out corruption;
  • Help to improve data quality by enabling more people to scrutinise the data, and identify, check and correct inaccuracies;
  • Enable banks and other financial institutions to perform due diligence more effectively;
  • Ensure that businesses know who they are doing business with; and
  • Contribute to more effective law enforcement – investigations, prosecutions and the return of stolen assets.

5.     About ONE – ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 3.5 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Cofounded by Bono and strictly nonpartisan, we raise public awareness and work with political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding. ONE is funded almost entirely by a handful of philanthropists and foundations. We achieve change through advocacy. Our teams in Washington, D.C., London, Johannesburg, Brussels, Berlin, and Paris educate and lobby governments to shape policy solutions that save and improve millions of lives. To learn more, go to ONE.org.