Global Financial Integrity

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Letter to the Editor: Secretive Shell Corporations

Heather Lowe

This letter was originally published by The New York Times.


A French Shift on Africa Strips a Dictator’s Son of His Treasures” (Paris Journal, Aug. 24) highlights the need for Congress to take action to abolish anonymous shell corporations. These secretive entities helped enable President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s son to launder more than $100 million of ill-gotten gains through American banks to finance his lavish lifestyle while ordinary Equatorial Guineans remain mired in poverty.

In most states, less information is required to create a corporation than to obtain a driver’s license, and there is no requirement to disclose who owns or controls it. Such secrecy enables terrorist cells, drug traffickers and corrupt government leaders to launder money through the United States to finance illicit activities.

Anonymous shell corporations also facilitate tax evasion, thereby reducing government revenues, which is particularly destabilizing for the world economy when foreigners use anonymous American shell companies to evade taxes in their home countries.

Congress is currently considering the bipartisan Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which would eliminate anonymous shell corporations. Law enforcement agencies, including the Departments of Justice and Treasury and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, strongly support the bill, as do anticorruption groups, faith-based organizations, small-business associations and investors. Congress should support it, too.

Washington, Aug. 24, 2012

The author is legal counsel and director of government affairs for Global Financial Integrity, a research and advocacy group in Washington.