Microsoft PressGlobal Witness, and others, have repeatedly exposed the role of anonymously owned companies in enabling corruption and criminality. Some examples include:

(2) Escolano, J. and Arbatli, E. (2012) Fiscal Transparency, Fiscal Performance and Credit Ratings, IMF Working Paper No. 12/156

(3) See the Guardian, “Africa losing billions from fraud and tax avoidance

(4) See World Bank report “Puppet Masters: How the corrupt Use Legal Structures to Move Stolen Assets and What To Do About It”

(5) See the Guardian, “David Cameron says not enough being done to tackle tax evasion

(6) This is not just an offshore problem. In January 2016 a groundbreaking undercover investigation by Global Witness was profiled by CBS’ 60 Minutes programme, showing how the U.S. is a critical player in this global web of secrecy.







David Cameron will pledge today to make public the names of who actually owns and controls British companies, in a move applauded by Global Witness which has been campaigning on this issue for many years. This will make it much harder for criminals to hide their identity behind sham UK shell companies, and for the corrupt to steal billions of dollars from developing countries.

“Global Witness’ investigations have shown how anonymous shell companies are the global getaway cars for crime, corruption and tax evasion. Full credit should go to the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary for acting to take away the keys,” said Gavin Hayman, director of campaigns at Global Witness.

At the G8 in June, the UK said it would create a central database of the ultimate owners of UK companies, rather than just the legal ownership information currently held by Companies House. Following a consultation, the Prime Minister has now announced that this register will be open to members of the public, rather than just restricted to law enforcement.

It is crucial that information on the real, beneficial owners of companies is out in the open. It will allow citizens to hold companies to account, companies to know who they are doing business with, and law enforcement from around the world to chase down criminals who have abused UK companies. This move will be cheap for the majority of businesses who do not have complicated ownership structures.

“Life is about to get much more difficult for corrupt politicians, arms traders, drug traffickers and tax evaders. Others countries, including the British tax havens, the EU and the US, now need to follow the UK’s leadership and commit to publishing information on who ultimately owns companies,” added Hayman.


Contact: Robert Palmer on +44 (0)7545 645 406 or or Andrea Pattison on +44 (0)7970 103 083

Notes to editors:

  1. The announcement will be made at the start of the Open Government Partnership summit in London.
  2. Read Global Witness’ Idiot’s Guide to Money Laundering for step-by-step instructions on how to use companies to hide stolen assets, fund terrorism and evade taxes.
  3. Read Global Witness’ briefing, ‘Anonymous Companies: How secretive shell companies are a major barrier in the fight against poverty and what to do about it’.
  4. Global Witness believes that it needs to include enough information to properly identify a company’s beneficial owner, as well as to understand how they exercise their ownership. The register should be published as machine readable open data to ensure that the information can be used as widely as possible, and combined with other information easily and cheaply.



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