New Campaign Launched to Tackle Cross-border Corruption

Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) - COSP8. Photo: UNODC (Representational Image)
Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) – COSP8. Photo: UNODC (Representational Image)

Transparency International is calling on the UNGASS 2021 to commit to making centralized, public beneficial ownership registers a global standard.

The UN General Assembly’s decision to hold a Special Session against Corruption in 2021 has created an opportunity for the international community to address the global crisis of corruption.

According to Transparency International, a number of groups and individuals believe that the UNGASS 2021 must put an end to the abuse of anonymous companies and other legal vehicles that facilitate cross-border corruption and other crimes.

Transparency International is calling on the UNGASS 2021 to commit to making centralized, public beneficial ownership registers a global standard. Companies that exist only on paper, exploiting the legal systems and concealing their ultimate ownership, are tools for the diversion of critical resources needed to advance sustainable development and collective security.

For decades, as scandal after scandal has demonstrated, anonymous shell companies have been used to divert public funds, channel bribes, and conceal ill-gotten gains, as part of corruption and money laundering schemes stretching across borders.

Beneficial ownership information – information on the natural persons who ultimately own, control, or benefit from a legal vehicle – enables cross-border enforcement and the tracing of ill-gotten assets for confiscation and return.

In public contracting processes, it helps in the detection of conflicts of interest and corruption. It also makes it easier for businesses to carry out due diligence, helps them know who their partners and customers are and meet reporting obligations.

A central, public register of companies and their ultimate beneficial owners – in addition to information on legal ownership and directors – is the most effective and practical way to record such information and facilitate timely access for all stakeholders.

Transparency in company ownership is more than a technical solution to a problem. It is a matter of social justice. Corruption devastates the lives of billions of people around the world, while its deadliness has become all the more evident during the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis.

With only ten years left to achieve the 2030 Agenda targets, the group demands decisive reforms to ensure that the resources needed to pay for critical public services such as schools and hospitals are not simply misappropriated and hidden away in tax havens or property markets abroad.

Transparency International is inviting civil society groups, business associations, companies, media organizations, research centers, think-tanks, and individual academics to join it in asking the UNGASS 2021 to establish central, public registers of beneficial ownership as a global standard. The deadline for signing the appeal is 8 January 2021.

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Rakesh Raman