How Anonymous Shell Companies Finance Insurgents, Criminals, and Dictators

This article was originally published in the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Panama Papers leak of eleven million documents in April 2016 revealed that former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the brother-in-law of Chinese President Xi Jinping, longtime friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, drug kingpins, and even a soccer megastar had something in common: they all channeled money through anonymous shell companies. Anonymous shell companies are entities that usually employ few or no workers, do not conduct any substantive business, and allow their owners to store or route money while hiding their identities.

Because of the secrecy they can provide, anonymous companies represent an important nexus of corruption, money laundering, transnational organized crime, and terrorism, which directly harm U.S. interests. As one of the main facilitators of anonymous companies, the United States should pass legislation to disclose ownership information for all companies, increase federal contract transparency, and boost other business and government transparency mechanisms at home and abroad. Doing so would significantly cut back on the ability of terrorists, criminals, and their ilk to use American corporations, real estate, and trusts to finance activities that harm the United States and its foreign interests.

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Report by Jodi Vittori

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations.