Global Financial Integrity

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Anonymous Companies

What’s Going to Happen to the FIFA Forfeiture Money?

GFI’s Heather Lowe Proposes Reinvesting FIFA Forfeiture Funds in Inner-City Youth Soccer Programs

Following from my blogs on Friday and Monday about different aspects of the FIFA case, I’d like to talk a little bit about the forfeiture funds and penalty payments that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will be collecting in this case and what will happen to them. A proceeding like the FIFA case can result in a really large pile of cash that will be under DOJ control. Unless the Defendants are acquitted of the charges against them at trial or the DOJ decides to drop the case against a Defendant for some reason, we can expect that the DOJ will be collecting from those Defendants the bribe money that they received, anything they bought with that money that will then be auctioned off (for example, check out the list of real estate that will likely go under the hammer in Florida and Georgia from paragraph 343 of the indictment), and, possibly, additional fines in the form of penalties. It is going to add up.

Recouping Expenses

It is obviously critical that the DOJ, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other government agencies that were involved in this case are able to recoup the money they spent working on this investigation over the past few years. Another way of looking at it is that they need to keep a sizable chunk in order to ensure that they have the resources to work cases like this over the next few years. No matter how you slice it, that’s important to American taxpayers as well, who pay less in taxes because the DOJ and other agencies are able to fund part of their work through forfeiture and penalty payments instead of through tax dollars. Win-Win.

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A Brief, Recent History of Beneficial Ownership Transparency on the Global Agenda

Slow but Steady Progress towards Curtailing the Abuse of Anonymous Companies

In June 2013, G8 leaders met in Lough Erne and agreed to a set of principles on beneficial ownership transparency. The principles state that companies should maintain their beneficial ownership information and that the information should be available to law enforcement and other competent authorities; additionally, countries were to consider making such information available to financial institutions and other regulated businesses. Trust information should be collected and available, the principles explained, but only to law enforcement. These principles were largely reiterated by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—the body setting international anti-money laundering standards—in their Guidance on Transparency and Beneficial Ownership in October 2014 and by the G20 in their High Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership in November 2014.

Despite the establishment of this baseline, momentum is building since Lough Erne to raise the bar. In July 2013, the UK began the process to establish a central register of information and, after a public comment period, determined that the register should be publicly available—a position strongly supported by Global Financial Integrity (GFI). In April 2014, the European Parliament approved provisions requiring formation of public registers as part of their draft of the European Union’s Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD), but the E.U. Council and the E.U. Commission have yet to take a public position on the AMLD, delaying its final adoption. Just last month, Denmark announced that it, too, would create its own public registry of beneficial ownership information.

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Are International Institutions Failing to Grasp the Big Picture on Beneficial Ownership?

Everyone Should Be Able to Determine with Whom They Are Doing Business, Writes GFI’s Heather Lowe

On Monday of this week, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the body setting international anti-money laundering standards, published new Guidance on Transparency and Beneficial Ownership, detailing a variety of ways in which countries can comply with FATF Recommendations 24 and 25 (which relate to transparency and beneficial ownership of legal persons and arrangements) and sending the message that complaining about the difficulty of compliance is no longer an option.  FATF consulted with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on this publication, recognizing that identification of the beneficial owners of legal entities and arrangements is not only a money laundering issue, but a fundamental element of the OECD’s new multilateral automatic exchange of financial information.  What neither FATF nor the OECD appears to have yet grasped, however, is that beneficial ownership – knowing who is ultimately behind a company – is a matter of sound business practice.  Everyone should be able to determine with whom they are doing business.

That lack of understanding was evident on page 21 of the Guidance, where FATF made it clear that it was supportive of countries choosing to create publicly accessible registries for information, as the UK is in the process of creating.  FATF stated that:

“although this is not required by the FATF Recommendations, some countries may be able to provide public access to information through a searchable online database.”

The rationale behind this, they say, is that it:

“would increase transparency by allowing greater scrutiny of information by, for example, the civil society, and timely access to information by financial institutions, DNFBPs and overseas authorities.”

While we civil society folks appreciate what appears to be an attempt by FATF to demonstrate that they have heard civil society’s drumbeat on this issue, unfortunately what this shows is that they have not yet understood the variety of reasons for that drumbeat.

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Voices from Delaware Are Speaking Out Against Anonymous Company Ownership

Four Delaware Citizens Publish Letters in The News Journal of Delaware Urging their Congressional Delegation to Curb Anonymous Company Abuse

Our campaign to stop criminals using anonymous companies to cover their tracks is getting traction in some unexpected places.

Last month we wrote about how politicians in Delaware were starting to speak out about their state’s role as a corporate secrecy haven. Half of the state legislators had sent a letter to the Delaware Congressional Delegation, urging them to support bipartisan federal legislation introduced by Senators Levin (MI-D) and Grassley (IA-R) to deal with anonymous companies.

A few weeks ago we were invited to speak about this issue at a community forum organized by the Delaware chapters of Americans for Democratic Action and the National Association of Social Workers. I was on a panel with two Delaware state legislators, the head of a local social justice organization and the Deputy Secretary of State of Delaware.

Now we’re starting to see ordinary citizens from Delaware speak out as well. This week there have been a number of letters to the editor in the Delaware News Journal.

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China’s Corrupt Economic Fugitives are Finding a Home in the U.S.

U.S. Laws Enable the Outflow of Illicit Money from China, which Totaled US$1.08 Trillion from 2002 to 2011

Corrupt politicians, fugitive officials, and leaders on the lam have found a new safe haven to call home—the United States of America.

Interestingly enough, despite the sometimes contentious relationship between the two countries, the U.S. has now become the destination of choice for China’s “economic fugitives” running from corruption charges in their home country according to China Daily and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Many of these fugitives are known as “naked officials”, those who have moved their assets and family abroad to avoid regulations and scrutiny. Much of the time, these are high ranking leaders who have decided to move their wealth abroad should a corruption investigation arise.

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Messi and the International Impunity System

Lionel Messi’s Tax Troubles Should Increase Pressure on Politicians to Curb the Abuse of Anonymous Companies

The ongoing prosecution of football super star Lionel Messi for alleged tax evasion made global headlines last week. Messi and his father Jorge are accused of evading 4.2 million euros (US$5.6m) in tax on sponsorship earnings in court documents submitted by the prosecutor.

The alleged tax evasion scheme was based on using a web of anonymous shell companies registered in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay, as highlighted by our colleagues at Global Witness. These shell companies were linked to other anonymous companies in what the prosecutor calls “convenience jurisdictions” such as the UK and Switzerland.

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Debate in Delaware on Tackling Anonymous Companies

Half of Delaware’s State Legislators Urge their Congressional Delegation to Support the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act

Last November, a former special agent for the Treasury Department, John Cassara, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times with the headline “Delaware, Den of Thieves?” Cassara described how the state of Delaware (along with Wyoming and Nevada) has become “nearly synonymous with underground financing, tax evasion and other bad deeds facilitated by anonymous shell companies”. He told of his frustration as a law enforcement officer trying to get information out of Delaware about the real owners and controllers of companies registered in the state.

This week, a debate has started in Delaware about its role as a corporate secrecy haven. One-half of the members of the Delaware State Legislaturehave sent a letter to the Delaware Congressional Delegation, urging them to support bipartisan federal legislation introduced by Senators Levin (MI-D) and Grassley (IA-R) to deal with anonymous companies.

To understand why this is such a big deal, it’s important to understand the extent to which Delaware is a global hub for company formation. More than 1 million companies are incorporated in Delaware, which is more than the actual number of living residents. That number includes 50% of all publicly-traded companies in the U.S. and 64% of the Fortune 500. This is no accident; Delaware law grants attractive tax arrangements and other measures that attract businesses to incorporate there. These measures have paid off – in 2011 alone, Delaware collected roughly $860 million in taxes and fees from these companies – about a quarter of the state’s total budget.

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Why Wildlife Trafficking and Anonymous Companies Are Mutually Inclusive

Elephant ivory is a key product in wildlife trafficking

Any Effective Effort to Save Rhinos, Tigers, and Pandas from Extinction Must Tackle the Anonymous Companies that Propel the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Wildlife trafficking is more than illegally killing exotic animals; it is part of a complex criminal network that makes use of anonymous companies to illegally transfer both goods and money.

The illegal wildlife trade consists of the poaching, sale, and trade of exotic wildlife. Animals are used for food, medicine, commercial products, and even as pets. The illegal trade hosts a bevy of clientele in both developing and developed countries.

We probably all know that wildlife trafficking can be grisly and disturbing. Rhino horns are hacked off, turtles are stuffed into suitcases, and bear gall bladders are milked from living animals. The impact on biodiversity is astounding. According to our 2011 report, Transnational Crime in the Developing World, only 500,000 elephants exist today compared to a population of 1.2 million in the 1970s. The world’s tiger population has plummeted to just 3,200—down 95 percent since 1900, and an entire species of Rhino went extinct in 2009.

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