Wednesday

22nd Feb 2017

MEPs vote to abolish secret company ownership

  • City of London: The commission estimates the EU economy loses at least €120 billion every year, most of through money laundering (Photo: avail)

A European Parliament vote on Thursday (20 February) to set up public registers to identify company owners has been hailed as ground-breaking by pro-transparency groups.

MEPs in the civil liberties and economic committees backed the European Commission’s anti-money laundering directive but then added a public register provision to help crack open shell companies and trusts.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“We are enlarging the whole anti-money laundering directive from crime fighting to tax evasion and I think that is very important,” Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini, one of the parliament’s lead negotiators on the file, told this website.

Often based offshore in places like Bermuda, Jersey, and Gibraltar, shell companies are legal entities set up to hide an owner’s identity.

The World Bank estimates 70 percent of the proceeds of crime, corruption, and tax evasion are laundered through the murky corporate structures.

Around 1 percent of the criminal proceeds are detected.

The seizure rate by police is even lower, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, with EU governments and developing countries losing out in billions of tax revenues every year.

To scale back the losses, MEPs want each member state to list the ultimate owners of companies and trusts in publicly accessible online business registers. The registers would be interconnected.

MEPs from across the political divide support the plan.

“We got all political parties from GUE to EPP and ECR voting for public registers on ultimate beneficial owners,” said Sargentini, referring to leftist, centre-right and rightist groups in the parliament.

Banks and financial institutions, auditors, lawyers, accountants, notaries, tax advisors, asset managers, trusts and real estate agents would have to provide the names to national authorities to put in the registers.

“They need to verify the identity and sometimes that means piercing various layers,” says Nienke Palstra, a policy expert on anti-money laundering at Transparency International.

Current methods to disclose the details can be costly and time intensive.

Organisations are currently required to file a report, whenever they encounter something suspect, to a national authorities’ financial intelligence unit (FIU).

Insiders say the units do not always follow up on the reports or co-operate well with other units in different member states.

“There are some serious doubts whether or not the current system - with those FIUs which have to follow up on all the suspected activities - is efficient,” says Koen Roovers at the Brussels-based Financial Transparency Coalition.

But with interlinked registers in each member state, organisations over time would have a better starting point to verify the beneficial ownership of potential clients.

It also makes it easier for an FIU in one member state to access the data in another.

The public nature of the registers is meant as an extra layer of scrutiny to ensure the data is up to date and correct.

Changes in ownership would have to be communicated to the national authorities within 30 days. People who provide inaccurate or false information could face criminal sanctions.

The draft bill is set for a vote in the plenary in March. MEPs are hoping to launch inter-institutional negotiations in autumn.

Both the UK and France support the registers. But resistance has emerged from Germany.

“I hope Germany with the new CDU-SPD government might change its tune and come aboard with the Brits and the French,” noted Sargentini.

EU to donate criminal assets to charity

Criminal suspects who flee the country or who are ill could still have their illicit assets confiscated and donated to charity, under new rules endorsed by MEPs.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

Opinion

EU must tackle Poland's bad behaviour

Developments in Washington only serve to highlight the need for positive action in the face of an overtly nationalistic and anti-rights form of populism.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree
  2. Dozens drown off Libyan coast
  3. EU ministers approve anti-tax avoidance directive
  4. Poland rejects EU criticism of court changes
  5. German nationalist leader met with Putin allies in Moscow
  6. German housing market overheated, says Bundesbank
  7. France invites three EU leaders for Versailles summit in March
  8. Greece agrees on new bailout reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  2. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  3. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  4. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  7. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  8. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  9. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  10. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  11. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  12. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"

Latest News

  1. Should Europeans spend more on defence?
  2. Dieselgate: EU disappointed with VW's treatment of customers
  3. French police raid Le Pen's party office
  4. The Armenia-Azerbaijan war: A refugee's story
  5. Greece and creditors break bailout deadlock
  6. Internal EU report exposes Libya turmoil
  7. EU commissioner condemns 'delay' in post-Dieselgate reform
  8. Sweden fights back as foreign leaders make up bad news