An important stand against corruption: that’s the agreement reached last December by the European Union to create national registries that name the true owners of companies and trusts. Under the new legislation full access to company beneficial ownership data will be granted to law enforcement and relevant government bodies in central registers established by EU member states.
The agreement will make it more difficult for secret companies to hide their identity behind a maze of anonymous shell companies, vehicles to launder illicit funds by corrupt individuals and businesses. Moreover, due to the partial access that will be provided to the public or organizations which can prove a “legitimate interest”, such as investigative journalists and NGOs, the agreement will also make it easier for investigators and the public to uncover the source and intended destination for illicit funds that are stolen from the public or given and accepted as bribes for winning public contracts.
Some member states, such as Denmark and the United Kingdom, have said they will go further and make corporate registries completely public, fully endorsing the position of Transparency International (TI) which had already urged all European governments to do the same, concerned that the final legislation will fall short of full transparency demanded by anti-corruption activists worldwide and firmly committed that everyone has a legitimate interest to know who owns, controls or benefits from companies. Nevertheless, if the agreement is passed by the European Parliament next year, as seems likely, it will mean the end of secret companies in 28 European countries: a quite good result.