Government plans public register of shell companies

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The government plans to publish a list of ‘shell’ companies used by firms to keep money offshore as part of its push to discourage tax evasion, David Cameron will say later today in a speech at the Open Government Partnership summit in London, reports accountancy services Harris & Co.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced earlier this year that it will introduce new rules requiring companies to obtain and hold information on who owns and controls them.

This information is to be held in a central registry maintained by Companies House, where it will be accessible to law enforcement agencies and tax authorities. A consultation on the proposals, contained in its transparency and trust report, ended on 16 September.

In today’s speech Cameron will say that the register will now be open for the public to view, claiming that a small minority of companies have hidden their business dealings in a ‘complex web of shell companies’ for too long.

‘This cloak of secrecy has fuelled all manner of questionable practice and downright illegality, illegality that is bad for the developing world - as corrupt regimes stash their money abroad under different identities. And illegality that is bad for Britain"s economy too - as people evade their taxes through untraceable trails of paperwork’, Cameron will say.

Cameron made tax transparency a key issue at the G8 summit earlier this year, and is expected to say he is ‘delighted’ to announce the ‘central register of company beneficial ownership’ will be publicly available.

Roger Barker, of the Institute of Directors, welcomed the move, saying it was ‘right that the true owners of companies should be transparent both to the company itself and the wider business community’. He cautioned, however, that ‘significant practical challenges remain in order to ensure that any register of beneficial ownership is accurate and robust, but we support government efforts to begin this process’.

Richard Miller, executive director of charity ActionAid, said: ‘This is a hugely significant step forward and a big victory for campaigners who have long called for transparency when it comes to international taxation, putting this information into the hands of citizens is vital in the fight against tax dodging. What we now need to happen is for other countries - including those Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies over which the UK has some level of jurisdiction - to follow suit and the UK Government should now use its moral authority to put pressure on them to do so."

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