Access to beneficial ownership data is vital to identifying – and stopping – corruption and dirty money. The more people who are able to access such information, the more opportunity to connect the dots. We have seen time and time again, from the Czech Republic and Denmark to Turkmenistan, how public access to registers helps uncover shady dealings. At a time when the need to track down dirty money is so plainly apparent, the court’s decision takes us back years.
Today the European Court of Justice recognised that press and civil society organisations are instrumental in preventing and combatting money laundering and therefore have a legitimate interest in accessing information on beneficial owners. It’s now time for the European Parliament and Council to codify this by guaranteeing access in the current 6th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive. But that’s not enough; the new directive should also include precise provisions that reconcile public access with privacy and security concerns.
It's good to see that G7 leaders have now asked the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force to report by the end of the year “on potential additional measures to be taken”. But the task force should also tell us what they have actually done to sanction and confiscate wealth, and what is still blocking their work. In fact, Transparency International has found there are myriad obstacles hindering multilateral efforts to target Russian elites and their wealth.
Our call for the G7 to recognise their role in fighting corruption and kleptocracy seems to have been heard. It is promising that the G7 acknowledges the threats that corruption and dirty money pose to national security, freedom and democracy. Now, we expect these pledges to be followed by action.
For too long, professional enablers, banks, companies, and the real estate and luxury sectors across G7 countries have provided safe haven to shady actors and their illicit wealth. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the G7 made big promises to go after kleptocrats and their money. But when we examined the current state of play, we found under-resourced authorities and plenty of secrecy. This makes tracking down assets an uphill battle – be it to implement Russia-Ukraine sanctions or in the context of investigations to hold kleptocrats accountable. Perhaps because of these challenges, most governments have also been tight-lipped about their progress tracing suspect assets.
We’re disheartened to see that this year’s G7 Presidency Programme fails to mention corruption or the disastrous impact the unchecked flow of dirty money has on so many of the G7’s priorities. Transparency International calls on all G7 leaders to heed their own pledges and use the opportunity of the Summit to outline exactly how they will deny safe haven to corrupt actors and their loot.
Democracy is under pressure worldwide, while authoritarian regimes strengthen their hold on power thanks to corruption and dirty money. We call on the German government to live up to its historic responsibility by bringing transnational corruption to the centre of debate during its G7 presidency. While the creation of the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force was a welcome first step to strengthen multilateral efforts, we need decisive action from the G7 so that targeted sanctions against Russian kleptocrats help achieve accountability. Looking ahead, the G7 should institutionalise the Task Force as a permanent body and expand its scope to target kleptocrats from around the world.
In addition, the C7 Open Societies Working Group – which we co-lead – also calls on G7 governments to ensure comprehensive disclosure of beneficial ownership information and the protection of civil society actors working against corruption and abuse of power. The C7 handed over their demands personally to Olaf Scholz at the C7 Summit last month. It is his duty to ensure that the G7 resolutely addresses these problems to strengthen a free and functioning civil society as the cornerstone of democracy worldwide.
Over the last decade, corrupt public officials and business people bought up golden passports and visas, helping to conceal their assets and identities. Russians reportedly make up nearly half of those who have acquired citizenship using this route. Scandals have shown that these opaque schemes are not about genuine investment or migration.
The European Commission has long acknowledged the problems with such investment migration schemes, but has failed to take decisive action to end them. Now is the time to close the door to kleptocrats and their money.
The EU should ban the sale of golden passports once and for all. Member states should ensure that citizenship or residency rights awarded to sanctioned individuals are immediately revoked. This would signal that the EU no longer offers a safe haven to kleptocrats.
People of Senegal deserve transparency and integrity when it comes to how their natural resources are handled. These oil and gas reserves have the potential to transform Senegal and lift millions from poverty. And yet, they have been sold to a convicted offender who has reportedly repeatedly lied to communities and investors, all the while engaging in dubious business dealings with public officials.
The Senegalese public is being deprived of potentially billions in royalties from the natural resources that belong to them. Only opening investigations against them in the other jurisdictions will get them the justice they deserve.
The people of Lebanon deserve a government made up of politicians with integrity as well as extensive experience in public sector and disaster management. Furthermore, they must be untouched by any suspicion of corruption, and there must not be any conflict between their private interests and the public interest.
The justice required for the families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion cannot be achieved without establishing rule of law, good governance and transparency. They deserve an independent investigation and a fair trial to be held that demonstrates responsibilities and applies the legally defined penalties against the perpetrators.
The creation of a new supervisory agency could help fix the most glaring gaps that have made EU a money laundering hotspot. But smaller financial institutions would likely not fall under the new authority’s direct supervision, remaining a major vulnerability in the future framework. Previous corruption cases have shown that banks such as Pilatus in Malta and ABLV in Latvia have played a significant role in cross-border financial crime, despite their size.
The Council and the European Parliament have now the responsibility to fix the remaining loopholes. This should include ensuring proper governance of the future supervisory authority. To fulfil its mandate and be truly effective, the new body must be granted sufficient resources. Its independence must also be guaranteed, which the proposed governance arrangements would not achieve to a sufficient degree.
The EU is often seen as a bastion of integrity, but these findings show that countries across the region remain vulnerable to the insidious effects of corruption. During a health crisis, using personal connections to access public services can be as damaging as paying bribes. Lives can be lost when connected people get a COVID-19 vaccine or medical treatment before those with more urgent needs. It's crucial that governments across the EU redouble their efforts to ensure a fair and equitable recovery from the ongoing pandemic.
These results should be a wake-up call for both national governments and the EU institutions. Corruption is undermining public trust and policy makers need to listen to the concerns of the public. There are many immediate actions that can be taken to remedy these problems, such as increasing lobbying transparency both at the EU and national levels and tackling tax avoidance. And EU policies to protect whistleblowers and fight money laundering must be effectively and swiftly transposed into national law.
Corruption thrives when institutions, meant to hold the executive accountable, are undermined. The latest chain of events follows the alarming pattern of executive overreach observed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when social accountability mechanisms were curtailed in the name of the emergency. We call on the El Salvador government to respect the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers.
Despite all the publicity that Agrofert generated, the Czech Prime Minister was able to conceal his personal and economic ties to the company’s German subsidiary. It was disappointing to see this, especially as analogous registers of Slovakia and the United Kingdom had listed him as the owner. While we are pleased to see that the information has now been corrected, the case illustrates that Germany has a long way to go to improve on beneficial ownership transparency, especially when it comes to verifying data.
It’s not a surprise that registries around the EU have gaps. In the majority of EU countries, competent authorities do not verify information submitted to them by companies. The European Commission has a perfect opportunity to address this as part of the EU anti-money laundering single rulebook, which should be proposed in the coming months.
The Agrofert saga showcases the power of public beneficial ownership registers. It also makes the case for improving and promoting public access to beneficial ownership data across the EU. The correction made to Germany’s register of company owners strengthens our anti-corruption efforts and encourages civil society everywhere in the EU to scrutinise available data.
The current systems are failing when it comes to deterring large-scale and high-level corruption, often stretching across borders. The international anti-corruption community has been actively discussing areas for reform. What is needed now is for the UN to work on concrete new frameworks and structures for ensuring accountability and justice.
As corruption schemes evolve, it is crucial that the international framework to tackle corruption also responds to new patterns and trends we see around the world. Discussions on gaps and weaknesses in the current anti-corruption mechanisms, and on what could be done to address them, need to be conducted in a truly inclusive manner. This means involving experts from Member States as well as from international organisations, civil society, academia, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders in order to ensure we are making meaningful progress.
All parts of our societies around the world have spoken. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from indigenous peoples’ groups to tax justice advocates, from distinguished diplomats to multi-national companies, we all agree: anonymous companies are vehicles for corruption and other illicit practices that jeopardise the common good. We are asking country representatives preparing for the UNGASS 2021 to heed this call for urgent action.
In recent years, many countries have made progress towards ending the abuse of anonymous companies – most recently the United States. But, as our campaign shows, there is an overwhelming consensus that fundamental fixes are necessary across the board. Criminals and the corrupt must have nowhere to hide their ill-gotten loot. This means universal adoption of public beneficial ownership registers, based on a robust definition of beneficial ownership and accompanied by strong verification processes.
The G20 has made over 60 anti-corruption commitments over the years, but implementation is still lagging far behind these good intentions. If this meeting is to result in more than empty promises, we need to see the G20 take concrete steps to rise to the challenge of the moment. Top priority should be to make sure relief funds reach those most in need. Countries receiving assistance should be able to expect not only anti-corruption leadership and guidance, but financial resources for anti-corruption to protect the unprecedented sums involved.
Money lost to foreign bribery wastes millions of dollars that could otherwise go to lifesaving services like health care. Too many governments choose to turn a blind eye when their companies use bribery to win business in foreign markets. G20 countries and other major economies have a responsibility to enforce the rules.
Despite big corruption cases involving companies like Airbus, Odebrecht, and many others, our research shows that many countries are barely investigating foreign bribery. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for businesses in wealthy countries to export corruption to poorer countries, undermining institutions and development. And no country is immune.
Once again, the tireless work of investigative journalists has helped expose a systemic failing with huge repercussions for ordinary people worldwide. At the same time, governments are attempting to silence those exposing corruption, and in nearly all countries whistleblowers are not adequately protected by law. These latest revelations should be a wake-up call for governments to get serious about holding the powerful to account and protecting those who expose the truth.
Individual sanctions in the form of asset freezes and travel bans against those perpetrating or aiding violence have the potential to hurt the authoritarian regime at the highest level and encourage them to listen to the clear demands of the people. Once the crisis is over, Lukashenko and his regime must answer for the acts of violence and gross breaches of universal human rights in European and international courts.
Alexander Lukashenko was elected by the people of Belarus in 1994 on an anti-corruption platform. He has betrayed his mandate and the trust of his people on many occasions during his 26 years as president.
We are out in the streets – everybody who has courage and strength – to show that we will not stand another stolen election. Government has responded by unleashing riot police, mass detentions and violence, suppressing protesters rights and freedoms.
“The lack of real progress against corruption in most countries is disappointing and has profound negative effects on citizens around the world. To have any chance of ending corruption and improving peoples’ lives, we must tackle the relationship between politics and big money. All citizens must be represented in decision making.”
Frustration with government corruption and lack of trust in institutions speaks to a need for greater political integrity. Governments must urgently address the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on our political systems.