Charmian Gooch: anonymous company ownership is fuelling corruption

The tide is turning, and transparency is an issue whose time has come," Charmian Gooch, cofounder of corruption-busting non-profit Global Witness, told the audience at WIRED2014. "A sound business principle for setting up and launching a company is being abused by criminals across the planet -- we are all being ripped off, particularly the poorest on the planet."

Gooch is talking about anonymous company ownership, a legal business practice that is fuelling drug wars and enabling corrupt politicians across the globe to redirect funds and steal from their citizens. She and her cofounders have been battling the sources of corruption and environmental devastation for the past two decades, investigating how the illegal timber trade was funding the Khmer Rouge genocide back in 1995. That first undercover investigative report led to the Cambodian-Thai border being closed off, and contributed to the downfall of the regime. It also woke the world up to a practice that is far too prevalen, and which continues to operate relatively unhindered -- partly due to anonymous company ownership.

"So many countries rich in natural resources are home to some of poorest and most dispossessed people on the planet," said Gooch. "We call it the resource curse."

"Over the years, there has been one thing in common -- anonymous company ownership, time and again to hide elicit assets of corrupt politicians or those disguising wholesale looting of state assets."

She points to a recent World Bank Study that looked at 200 cases of corruption across 80 countries -- diverted funds amounted to $56 billion (£35 billion), and in 70 percent of cases the perpetrators had made use of anonymous company ownership.

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