FATF Evaluation Notes the U.S. Anti-Money Laundering “System Has Serious Gaps that Impede Timely Access to Beneficial Ownership Information”
Last week, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—the international body that sets anti-money laundering and counter-terror financing (AML/CFT) standards—released its first review of the United States’ efforts to combat dirty money since 2006. While the FATF report finds that the U.S. generally has a decent AML/CFT framework, it notes that there remains a gaping hole in the regime: the problem of anonymous shell companies.
The FATF release states:
“The United States has a well-developed and robust anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CFT) regime through which it is effectively investigating and prosecuting money laundering and terrorist financing. However, the system has serious gaps that impede timely access to beneficial ownership information.”
Indeed, the U.S. remains one of the easiest places in the world for criminals, terrorists, and kleptocrats to open anonymous shell companies to launder illicit money with impunity, according to leading academics. That is because no U.S. state requires that information on the true, human owner (known as the “beneficial owner”) of an entity be disclosed to authorities at the time of incorporation.
As Congress Pursues Tax Reform, FACT Urges Lawmakers to Close Loopholes, Hold Large Companies Accountable, and Refrain from Disadvantaging Wholly Domestic and Smaller Businesses
Corporate tax reform is coming. The central question is: what will it look like? After a campaign in which both presidential candidates pledged to close loopholes that allow corporations to dodge taxes and stop companies from booking their profits overseas, is there the political will to do it?
One current proposal in Congress calls for a 0% tax on profits booked offshore. Yes, the proposal is for 0%. That is not a typo. Given the campaign rhetoric, that seems antithetical to cracking down on corporate tax dodging. But that hasn’t stopped Representative John Delaney (D-MD) from pushing a bill that would do just that. Bad enough that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the President-elect have suggested giveaway-corporate-tax rates of between 8% and 10% on offshore profits — but the new starting point appears to be zero.
Sadly, the rate is only a part of the problem and, in some ways, the lesser of the evils. These proposals leave in place all of the loopholes that enable companies to move money and jobs overseas. They allow multinational companies to continue to defer paying taxes on profits booked offshore until the next giveaway — referred to in policy circles as a tax ‘holiday.’ These ‘holidays’ reward a small number of very large corporations — just 30 Fortune 500 companies hold 65% of the estimated $2.6 trillion in offshore profits — with a special tax rate (or no tax rate). That leaves domestic companies, smaller businesses, and individuals to pick up the tab (and, it’s a large tab: Citizens for Tax Justice estimates that Fortune 500 companies now owe more than $700 billion in unpaid taxes on their earnings booked offshore).
25 Organizations Send Letter to Congress Urging Beneficial Ownership Transparency in Procurement Process
The U.S. government has long recognized that it does not have enough information on the identities of its contractors—those that help protect our national security, provide medical and educational services, and build infrastructure.
“‘[T]here is no database in the U.S. government’ that provides reliable subcontractor information.”
— Ray DiNunzio, Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction chief investigator from August 2009 to 2011 (via the Washington Post)
This lack of information can harm us all.
Conservative Think Tank Scholars Note “Ending Criminal Secrecy Might become that Rarest of Political Beasts: a Truly Non-Partisan Issue.”
Scholars at the Hudson Institute recently announced in an article their support for action to curtail the abuse of anonymous shell companies. The conservative think tank’s Kleptocracy Initiative argues that the U.S. efforts around the world to stabilize governments and root out corruption are being undermined by an irrational contradiction where U.S. laws are at the same time providing a “safe haven to their dirty cash.”
Ending Anonymous Shell Companies Will Enable Us to Follow the Money Driving the Illicit Opioid Trade
Opioids are killing more Americans than ever before.
On average, 78 people die from opioid overdose everyday. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 lives were lost due to overdoses related to prescription opioids. This crisis is being described as “one of the worst public health epidemics” in U.S. history.
The prevalence of opioid abuse is pushing families apart, tearing at the fabric of our communities, and killing our loved ones. So what or who is to blame for this prevalence? What is allowing opiates to be transported into the heart of our communities? There are a number of reasons, but a recent report published by Fair Share Education Fund reveals one of the less-discussed—yet systemic—drivers of opioid abuse: anonymous shell companies.
Administration and Congress Should Focus on Collecting the Remaining $51.5 Billion that Apple Owes American Taxpayers
U.S. corporations woke up today to find that the European Commission ruled that Apple must re-pay Ireland roughly $14.5 billion it provided in illegal tax breaks.
According to The Wall Street Journal:
The European Union’s antitrust regulator has demanded that Ireland recoup roughly €13 billion ($14.5 billion) in taxes from Apple Inc., after ruling that a deal with Dublin allowed the company to avoid almost all corporate tax across the entire bloc for more than a decade—a move that could intensify a feud between the EU and the U.S. over the bloc’s tax probes into American companies.
With all of the finger pointing and spin, it’s important to take stock of the facts.
Let’s be clear—Apple’s pretense that it is a good corporate citizen that pays its taxes is now over.
Anonymous shell companies are impressively flexible tools. They can be used to launder money, evade taxation, covertly channel the payment of bribes, stash away a nation’s stolen wealth, and facilitate trafficking in drugs, weapons, and human beings. It’s a challenge to grasp the scale of the harm they help bring about.
It’s also challenging to find an appropriately scaled response. One place to start is for governments to require all companies within their jurisdiction to disclose their beneficial ownership for inclusion in a central registry—a step already taken by the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Norway. Going further, data from such registries can be aggregated and combined with other public registration materials to produce a gigantic database of company information, such as the one maintained by the UK for-profit OpenCorporates’ project.
This week, The Clearing House Association, a major trade association for U.S. commercial banks, endorsed legislation requiring the collection of information about the real owners of U.S. companies (S. 2489/H.R. 4450). The Clearing House Association is the oldest banking association in the U.S., and it advocates on behalf of the largest U.S. commercial banks, such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and SunTrust, just to name a few.
Their letter states, “We believe the bill would assist public sector efforts to identify money laundering and terrorist financing through the disclosure of the beneficial owners of corporations. In addition, the legislation would bring the United States further in line with international AML/CFT expectations, such as the recommendations developed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). We can see no justification for allowing corporations to shield their ownership.”
In 2015, Citigroup reported to the Security and Exchange Commission that it has 21 offshore subsidiary companies, but it reported to the Federal Reserve that it has 140. Similarly, Bank of America reported to the SEC that it has 21 subsidiaries while reporting to the Federal Reserve that it has 109. All told, 27 financial firms report wildly different numbers to the SEC v. Federal Reserve.
So what gives and which reporting is accurate? It turns out that SEC has less stringent reporting rules, requiring companies only to disclose “significant” subsidiaries. It defines significant as comprising 10 percent or more of the company’s assets. The Federal Reserve requires broader disclosure, but only for financial companies. A CTJ comparison of the disclosures revealed big banks and other financial firms collectively are under reporting to the SEC the number of subsidiary companies by a factor of more than seven.
For three and a half years, a former Pentagon supplier used two shell companies in Wyoming and pretended they were largely owned by ethnic minorities to win preferential treatment for government contracts so that he could profit from supplying substandard parts to the military. These schemes happen all too often. In another, conspirators used sham companies from North Carolina, Nevada and Tennessee to steal more than $2 million from subcontractors that they tricked into fulfilling contracts.
The US Administration is coming upon a key moment tomorrow at the international Anti-Corruption Summit hosted by the UK where it can keep the criminal and corrupt from ripping off our public budget while hiding behind the veil of an anonymous shell company.