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  November 30th, 2015 | Written by

G20 Countries Failing to Keep Their Promises on Fighting Corruption

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  • As much as $2 trillion is laundered each year, much of it by hiding company ownership.
  • Only the UK in the G20 is actively working to make it harder for the corrupt to hide cash.
  • The U.S. and China are among the worst anti-corruption performers, according to an NGO report.

It is now one year since G20 governments made the commitment, in the G20 Beneficial Ownership Transparency Principles, to dismantle the legal structure that allows anonymous companies, trusts, and other entities operating in the world’s 20 biggest economies to transfer and hide money often stolen through corruption.

As much as $2 trillion is laundered each year, much of it by hiding company ownership, yet only the United Kingdom in the G20 is actively working to make it harder for the corrupt to hide their cash, according to a new report from Transparency International, an anti-corruption non-governmental organization.

Other G20 governments, including the U.S. and China, have failed to deliver on their promise to fight corruption by adopting laws to end the secrecy that makes it easy for the corrupt to hide their identity and shift money across international borders.

The United States and China, are among the worst performers, according to the report.

“Pick any major corruption scandal in recent history—Petrobras, FIFA, Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych—and you will find a secret company was used to pay a bribe, shift and hide stolen money, or buy luxury real estate in places like London and New York,” said Cobus de Swardt, Transparency International’s Managing Director. “It makes no sense that this gaping loophole for the corrupt remains open. What is stopping G20 countries from actively shutting down this vital avenue to corruption, despite promises to do so?”

Some countries have fallen behind on the most basic aspects of ensuring we know who is really behind companies, trusts and other entities. Brazil and South Africa have not even adopted a legal definition of beneficial ownership, the technical term used to describe the real person or persons ultimately in control of money and assets.

G20 governments also need to tighten up their oversight on companies, banks and the people who help the corrupt to enjoy lavish lifestyles at the expense of their own citizens, according to transparency International. Only two countries, India and the UK, require companies to record and keep up to date information about the real person who owns or controls them. In the rest of the G20, if a company does something illegal it may not be possible to hold the actual owner accountable.

In eight G20 countries that include the financial centers of New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Sydney, banks can still go ahead and finish the transaction even if they can’t find out the identity of the real person behind the money.

In seven G20 countries real estate agents don’t need to identify the real people who are behind the sales and purchases of property. As a result hundreds of billions of dollars of property in London and New York have secret owners.

“It is incredibly difficult to stop a corrupt politician from buying a luxury mansion with money stolen from public coffers if he uses simple measures to hide his connection to the funds,” said de Swardt. “Governments need to supply the tools to make it easier for banks, accountants, lawyers and other businesses to stop corrupt customers. This means creating a central, public register containing beneficial ownership information, it’s that simple.”