UK Prime Minister David Cameron will announce today that a register of the real owners of companies will be opened to the public as part of the government's efforts to stop tax evasion.
Campaigners pushed the G8 heads of government summit in June to consider a register of beneficial owners so that people could see who actually ultimately owned businesses, something it can be difficult to discover when firms and individuals use shell companies.
Those who want changes in the global tax system argue that a lack of transparency about the owners of companies helps them to evade taxes and to escape public scrutiny over their tax affairs. Campaigns for "fairer" taxes on major corporations and wealthy individuals have been gaining momentum with revelations that tech and web firms such as Google and Apple are legally avoiding taxes by channeling profits through various subsidiaries.
Cameron said last summer that Blighty wanted to crack down on the accountants and lawyers helping companies and rich folks to hide the ultimate beneficiaries of firms using shell companies. Today's announcement will make the country the first to commit to an obligatory public "beneficial ownership" register.
"We need to know who really owns and controls our companies. Not just who owns them legally, but who really benefits financially from their existence," Cameron is expected to say at a conference.
"For too long a small minority have hidden their business dealings behind a complicated web of shell companies and this cloak of secrecy has fuelled all manners of questionable practice - and downright illegality."
The Prime Minister will also call on other countries to "join in this journey" and "close the door on these shadowy, corrupt illegal practices once and for all".
Campaigners like the anti-corruption group Global Witness welcomed the announcement, saying that anonymous shell companies not only facilitated tax evasion but also hid crime and corruption.
“Life is about to get much more difficult for corrupt politicians, arms traders, drug traffickers and tax evaders. Others countries, including the British tax havens, the EU and the US, now need to follow the UK's leadership and commit to publishing information on who ultimately owns companies," said director of campaigns Gavin Hayman. ®