Politics

Investors Urge End To Shell Company Secrecy

(REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

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Twenty-two investors who manage more than $505 billion in assets are urging Congress to approve pending legislation to require that the true owners of shell companies be disclosed by the corporations with which they are associated.

The Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act requires companies to disclose who controls or owns them. In a letter to Sen. [crscore]Charles Grassley[/crscore] and Sen. [crscore]Patrick Leahy[/crscore], the investors argued that anonymity of shell company ownership encourages crime and corruption ranging from fraud to human trafficking.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, while Leahy, a Vermont Democrats, is the panel’s ranking Democrat. The letter – which was made public Friday by the Global Witness nonprofit investor advocacy group – was also sent to Rep. [crscore]Jeb Hensarling[/crscore], chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services and other House leaders. Hensarling is a Texas Republican.

The legislation “contains important provisions necessary for a more transparent business environment that upholds good corporate governance as a standard business practice, which investors rely on and expect,” the 22 letter-signers said.

Among the signers are Boston Common Asset Management, Trillium Asset Management and Hermes Equity Ownership Services.

Companies across America “can be created anonymously, effectively removing personal responsibility or accountability from the corporate equation,” the letter said. “As a result, anonymously-owned American companies have been used by the criminal and corrupt to evade taxes, skirt sanctions and win U.S. government contracts in order to steal taxpayer dollars.”

“They have been used to finance terrorist activities and launder earnings from the trafficking of human beings, drugs and weapons,” the letter continued. “This legislation would provide law enforcement with critical information to combat these types of criminal activities.”

“Opaque corporate structures are not just an obstacle for law enforcement, but also inhibit investors’ ability to identify risks and constructively engage companies on progress toward more responsible conduct,” the letter said.

The letter comes in the wake of the Panama Papers – 11.5 million leaked documents that expose more than 200,000 offshore companies with links to owners in multiple countries but that are all but unknown to the general public.

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