FATF report highlights dubious role of shell firms

WASHINGTON: Anonymous shell companies are one of the most widely used methods for laundering the proceeds of crime and corruption, says the latest report by the Paris-based international financial agency Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Its latest report identifies “best practices” to help countries “get rid of the cloak of secrecy” concerning the ultimate owner of a company, foundation, association or any other legal person, and prevent their misuse for crime and terrorism.

“Transparency of beneficial ownership is essential to prevent the misuse of companies, associations or other entities for money laundering or terrorist financing,” the report says.

A beneficial owner is a legal term to describe a person who enjoys the benefits of ownership even though the title to that property or business is in another name.

FATF recommendations require countries to ensure that authorities can obtain up-to-date and accurate information about the person(s) behind companies, foundations and other legal persons.

In early 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published the so-called “Panama Papers” — documents showing the beneficial ownership of several thousands of offshore corporations. While many were used legally, the papers showed that some beneficial ownership was hidden for nefarious or illegal motives.

The papers also identified several influential Pakistani citizens as beneficial owners who violated FATF recommendations by not disclosing their association with offshore companies.