The Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition (FACT Coalition) submitted the below comments to the General Services Administration (GSA), in response to RFI #ID15170001, urging the agency to adopt a non-proprietary, open identifier system for use in federal procurement that includes the collection of information on the real people who own and control bidders of federal contracts and grants (also known as ‘beneficial owners’).
The FACT Coalition joined 24 other organizations in sending a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on October 28, 2016. The letter calls upon Congress to urge the Administration to begin exploring alternatives for how contractors are identified without delay, to adopt a contractor identifier that is a non-proprietary, open system and that includes the collection and publication of beneficial ownership information.
In May, the Treasury Department released a final rule that was meant to increase scrutiny on banks to know the customers with which they do business. Despite the fact that we believe the Treasury rule should have been much stronger, banks are on the front-line of the battle against terror financing and criminal money laundering and do have real anti-money laundering obligations. But, there’s just one problem. Banks are having a tough time verifying who their customers are because incorporating a company in the U.S. doesn’t require owners to disclose their real names. Banks are now asking that the federal government change that.
The Clearing House Association, which represents the largest commercial banks, sent a letter to congressional lawmakers in support of the bipartisan Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act (H.R.4450, S.2489). The Clearing House includes major banks like Bank of America, Citibank, and JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. As FACT member Global Witness explains, “without a way to ensure there’s comprehensive collection of beneficial ownership information for U.S. companies, it will be hard for banks to comply with new regulations that require them to find out who are the beneficial owners of their corporate clients.”
It’s no secret, secret shell companies are dangerous. A report by FACT member Global Witness in early July showed us how these companies are being used to defraud the federal government and put our armed forces at risk. This week, a new report from another FACT member, Fair Share Education Fund, exposed connections to shell companies and the opioid epidemic. The report, “Anonymity Overdose”, explains how ending the use of anonymous shell companies could make it significantly harder to keep drug profits hidden from law enforcement.
Likewise, shell companies are often used to launder illicit money through real estate. A geographic targeting order from the Treasury Department began collecting information on high risk purchases in two of the biggest U.S. housing markets back in March. According to an article in The New York Times, more than a quarter of the all-cash luxury home purchases made using shell companies in Manhattan and Miami were flagged as suspicious. The Treasury Department will now expand the program to other major housing markets across the country.
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.