Conference believes that transparent and ethical business contributes to both a stronger economy and a fairer society, but that the use of complex corporate structures to maintain secrecy around the ownership of commercial interests impoverishes both our economy and our democracy, and that such structures can both impede accountability for criminal acts and facilitate tax evasion.
Conference recognises the public service performed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in revealing, through the Panama Papers, how anonymous company ownership is used to facilitate the laundering of criminal earnings, terrorist financing and embezzlement of public funds.
Conference notes that:
- The UK this year launched a public register of beneficial owners - planned during the Coalition Government - and published proposals for a register of persons of significant control for companies engaging in public contracts in England or purchasing land or property in the UK; British Overseas Territories, however, have been reluctant to implement transparency measures.
- The Bribery Act of 2010 has created a new 'failure to prevent' principle allowing businesses to be held accountable for criminal acts by their employees, and as a result of Liberal Democrat influence in the Coalition a consultation on extending this principle to other economic crimes is currently in progress.
- The Government pledged during the Coalition to publish details of significant public contracts and recently announced plans to adopt principles based on the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS); many significant public projects have not had contracts published, however, and there has been widespread redaction of commercial details.
- The European Union has been a key institution in defining standards and strategies for combating corruption and money laundering and for publicising public procurement contracts; Britain's vote to leave the EU casts doubt on our future commitments and ability to tackle fraud and money laundering and raises challenges for transparency in public procurement.
- Proposals are being considered to reduce the amount of time the records of dissolved companies are retained by Companies House, from 20 years to six, a move that could result in the loss of more than two and a half million records and would be a major step back in the global fight against corruption.
Conference believes that:
- Tolerating the widespread registration of anonymous shell companies permits the facilitation of global corruption, organised crime and terrorist financing.
- Inconsistent concepts of corporate criminal liability prevent victims from access to justice and give larger companies an unfair competitive advantage through their ability to operate with relative impunity.
- We should continue to support and push for common standards with the European Union to support transparency in company ownership and public contracts, and to combat economic crime.
Conference calls for:
- British Overseas Territories to be given a fixed deadline to implement public registers of beneficial company ownership.
- Development of a consistent and coherent concept of corporate criminal liability for offences including economic crime, corruption and corporate manslaughter.
- Retrospective publication of any missing public contracts since January 2011 and addition of missing commercial details if redactions are legitimately challenged.
- Provision of support for local government to adopt the OCDS to publish details of local contracts.
- Any renegotiation of our relationship with the EU to include a full commitment to support the EU's work in tackling money laundering, to continue to implement the EEAS's financial sanctions programmes and to retain operational relations with Europol.
- Companies House to be required to continue to retain records of dissolved companies for 20 years as at present, and to consider ways in which information about dissolved companies could be made more rather than less accessible.