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Grave Secrecy : A briefing paper by Global Witness - June 2012

29 pages
GRAVE SECRECY A b R E G p A ER bY G Al W ESS, Jun E 2012  tiofinlipbn Global Witness is a UK-based non-governmental organisation which investigates the role of natural resources in funding conflict and corruption around the world. References to ‘Global Witness’ in this report are to Global Witness Limited, a company limited by guarantee and incorporated in England (Company No. 2871809) Global Witness, Buchanan House, 30 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HS. © Global Witness, 2012 CONTENTS RECOMMENDATIONS 2 INTRODUCTION 4 1. SECRET SHAREHOLDER REGISTRIES 5 2. LACK OF INFORMATION ON BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP 9 3. HIDING THE IDENTITY OF THE REAL OWNER USING NOMINEE DIRECTORS AND SHAREHOLDERS 12 4. LACK OF DUE DILIGENCE BY COMPANY SERVICE PROVIDERS 15 5.
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GRAVE SECRECY A bRiEfinG pApER bY GlobAl WitnESS, JunE 2012 
Global Witness is aKU-based non-governmental organisation which investigates the rol en aoftural resources in funding conflict and corruption around the world.  References to ‘Global Witness’ in this report are to Global Witness Limited, a company limited by guarantee and incorporated in England (Company No. 2871809)  Global Witness, Buchanan House, 30 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HS.  © Global Witness, 2012
RECOMMENDATIONS    Grave Secrecdy particular,etails a complex story the UK should of companies with hidden ownership investigate the nominee directors and suspicious financial transactions, and companies they work for that with accounts at a Kyrgyz bank that are named in Grave Secrecy for has been at the centre of major money potential breaches of the laundering allegations. The s  Act.tory Companies shows how companies in general can Countries should ensure that the be used as cover to launder the company filing requirements are proceeds of corruption, tax evasion enforced, by imposing fines on, or and other crimes. This should not be prosecuting, company directors possible. who file to provide the necessary  information. Global Witness has come up with a Those countries that do regulate number of recommendations on how com to prevent such abuses from occurring.  theirp aanntyi -smeorvniecye  lparuonvdidereirnsg  ulnadwesr  The recommendations below are should make significantly greater ordered according to the body to efforts to ensure that these which they are addressed. The same standards are enforced. recommendations are presented  Countries that do not regulate throughout this report, ordered according to the problem they are company service provdideerirs u lnder designed to overcome.   tshheoiru lad ndtio- msoo,n weiyt hla curniminanl gaws  penalties for the worst failures.   Countries should put pressure on Countriesthe secrecy jurisdictions with  which they have relationships (for   National corporate registries example, the UK and its Overseas  should carry out due diligence, on Territories and Crown a risk based approach, to verify ado t a standard that the beneficial ownership oDfe ppuebnldicelny caievsa)i ltaoble shpareholder information provided to them is istries. correct. This need not be that reg l onerous: company service sey icrve er sriuqoc enapmaundering ruleolab lnaitm-noye gheT providers are already required by the global anti-money laundering pdroocvuidmeernst ts oo fo btthaei nb iedneenfitcifiiacl ation standards to do exactly this. The owners of companies that they fees charged on incorporation create. National corporate  could be increased in countries  where they are currently low to trheeg isstarimees,  sfhoro ublodt hb ethree qouwirneedr st oa nddo  cover the extra costs this would entail.   directors of companies.      Serious penalties should be  imposed on company officers whoEu nion provide false information or fail toropean U  provide legally-required The body that sets the global anti-information, so that nominees money laundering standards, the think twice about pimping their Financial Action Task Force, updated identity to people whose business its standards in early 201 a 2A.s they do not really understand. In
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mutual evaluations, which are often hundreds of pages long, to include a summary with the various recommendations put in order of priority. FATF should penalise countries that have failed to regulate company service providers under their anti-money laundering laws. FATF should require countries to have publicly available beneficial ownership registries.
consequence of this, the European Union is in the process of updating its anti-money laundering directive. Once it is in place, all EU member states will be required to update their national legislation.   The EU should require member states to have publicly available legal shareholder registries.  The EU should require member states to have publicly available beneficial ownership registries.  The EU should require member states to require directors to state whether they are nominees and say on whose behalf they are working. The information should be made public by national corporate registries. The World Bank has already recommended such action2i-  An. elg dhta tnbola money laundering body, the Financial Action Task Force, has recently stated that countries should ‘consider’ requiring nominees to declare themselves as such and say on whose behalf they are working3.  The EU should clarify that company service providers are required to do customer due diligence even if not providing any further services beyond setting up a company.   Financial Action Task Force   FATF should use its country evaluations not just to assess if laws are on the books, but to assess whether they are being enforced. It should put much more pressure on those countries not in compliance with its standards. One way of starting theThe real owners of companies can hide ball rolling on this would be for alltheir identities behind legal structures. (Credit: Mortal Coil Media)
 Almost every economic crime involves the misuse  of corporate vehicles [i.e. companies and trusts]” 4 OECD, 2001
INTRODUCTION Global Witness’ new repoGrtr,a veIn an attempt to get beyond these Secrecy,s  contradictory claims, Global Witnesshows how companies can be used as cover to launder the proceeds investigated dozens of companies that of corruption, tax evasion and other held accounts at AUB, many registered crimes. It is so easy to set up a in the UK, and found significant company in a way that hides the indicators of money laundering, owner’s identity that criminals, including: terrorists and corrupt politicians can Hundreds of millions of dollars easily move money around the world were moving through the with impunity.H idden companycompanies’ accounts while they ownershipf acilitates state looting, appeared not to be engaged in any denying the citizens of poor countries real business activity. the chance to lift themselves out of Many of the transactions look like poverty and leaving them dependent payments for goods between on aid. companies trading with each other  in the open market but are in fact In one example from the report, we between companies that are found that a Russian shareholder of a related to each other. This raises UhKe  ccoommppaannyy  dwieads  itnhcreorep yoeraatrse db ewfiotrhe  the possibility that the money was tsomeone apparently uing his identity not being used to buy goods, but to move US$700 milliosn arodthe being moved around for money world.  Such exaleowu nho w it is laundering purposes.   mp s sh possible to set up a company in the UK The suspicious activity carried out by (baansidc  eolfs echwehcekre)b wiitnhgo cuat reriveedn  otuhte  omn ost just three of these shell companies the identities osf  tehe supposedwith accounts at the bank appears to owners. have run to US$1.2 billion, more than The case examinedGinr ave Secrecy quarter of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP. a  focuseso fo nm aa jCentral As ilaanu nbdaenrikn agt  the This briefing document examines the centre or money factors that allowed these events to allegations. Kyrgyzstan’s largest bank, happen, most of which involve AsiaUniversalBank (AUB), was methods for hiding the ownership and anies. We nationalised and foundt htor ebwe  tihnes olvent aconnatrol so tf oc ommakpe recommuse this raeftgeirm ae  roefv Porluetsiiodne notv eBrakiyev in April to hloyswi to prevent such preonbldeamtiso nins  as 2010. The new Kyrgyz authorities the future. The factors we look at are: claim that AUB was engaged in large scale money laundering and an ret shareholder istries independent audit funded by the 21. . atioformf inck oai lfecib ne nnoecSaLger European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has backed this up. 3. real  of the p idHneowhirsnediytit gni eht  owner using nominee directors However, the bank’s former and shareholders management claim that the new ack of d il regime’s claims against them are 4. gieud  by enceany compvres ecivorpredis L politically motivated. 5. Lack of verification of information  by national corporate registries  
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WHAT IS A SECRECY JURISDICTION?  Secrecy jurisdictions are often thouofg hats  being sunny places for shady people’ – places like the British Virgin Islands, The Marshall Islands and Vanuatu.  One of the things that msaukcehs places secret – although not the only one – is that they lack open shareholder registries. This makes it impossible to find out who owns the companies that are registered there (law enforcement agencies can find this information, th oitu igs hoften very difficult for them, as described below). Sometimes they arfeguohlG hlabo   aerrrdet  oas tax havens, t Witness prefers the term secrecy jurisdiction as such places do not just offer a way of avoiding tax but also offer tihliet ya tbo hide your identity for other purposes, including corruption and other illegal activity. As described below, any company can have a parent company registered in a secrecy jurisdiction, makin it eas to hide the ownersh iof an coman, anwhere.  
What is the problem?disguise the real owners (which we  address in the next section). Nobody intend g to launder money in attempts to do so by opening bank Registering a company in a secrecy accounts in their own name these jurisdiction, and thus hiding who days. Instead, they open an account in owns it, could, to some observers, a company’s name and ensure that it make the company appear suspicious. is extremely difficult to find out who is However there is an easy way around behind the company. this: set up a company in a major  financial centre – somewhere with an There are two main ways of doing this: open shareholder registry, such as the registering the company or the parent UK – but ensure that this company is company in a secrecy jurisdiction in turn owned by companies that are (which we address in this section), and themselves registered in secrecy using nominee shareholders to jurisdictions. So iltooks reputable on
£Bank account in name of company A  
ACompany registered in a major financial centre, such as the UK
Company registered in a secrecy jurisdiction, such as the British Virgin Islands
Person up to no good
It can be easier to set up anonymous comipna ntihes US than in more traditional ‘offshore’ centres such as the Caymann Idslsa. (Credit: Todd Wickersty/CC) 
the surface, but the owner is still, in Even governments which claim to reality, hidden. This makes the want to be more transparent, effective distinction between what are typically and accountable – the 55 countries of thought of as being ‘offshore’ and the Open Government Partnership all ‘onshore’ jurisdictions break down: it claim this – are not doing very well on is extremely easy to hide the making even the most basic of ownership of companies wherever company details available. The they are incorporated, and all information provision group jurisdictions, whether ‘onshore’ or OpenCorporates scored each country ‘offshore, are effectively part of this on six criteria, including whether global system of secrecy. information on directors and  shareholders is available and whether In addition, even the supposedly it is possible to carry out free searches ‘onshore’ jurisdictions are not as open online.6 The average score of the and transparent as people often Open Government Partnership assume. The World Bank reviewed countries was just 21 out of 100, even 150 big cases of corruption between though the criteria against which they 1980 and 2010 and identified the were being judged were pretty basic. companies that were used to hide Several major countries, including peoples’ identities. Companies Spain, Greece and Brazil, scored zero, registered in the United States topped meaning no company information is the list, with 102 out of the 817 available at all without payment or companies. registration. Increasing corporate  accountability is one of the Open The US is not often thought of as Government Partnership’s five ‘grand being a secrecy jurisdiction, but in fact challenges’. not a single state requires ownership information to be made public at the Countries that do not publish time companies are form5re sfo d,ena  dmrofnionn ioatwn ohe t Delaware does not even collect any companies incorporated under their ownership information let alone laws typically argue that this is not a publish it (and of course as it does not problem as, through mutual legal have the information, cannot make it assistance or tax information available to law enforcement). exchange treaties, they make such