Most large-scale corruption cases involve using legal entities to conceal ownership and control of corrupt proceeds, and policymakers should take steps to improve transparency to reduce opportunities for wrongdoing, according to a study by the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative of the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
"We need to put corporate transparency back on the national and international agenda,” said World Bank senior financial sector specialist who led the StAR research team.
"It is important for governments to increase the transparency of their legal entities and arrangements and at the same time improve the capacity of law enforcement," according to the report, 'The Puppet Masters: How the Corrupt Use Legal Structures to Hide Stolen Assets and What to Do About It', examines how bribes, embezzled state assets and other criminal proceeds are being hidden via legal structures – shell companies, foundations, trusts and others.
The study also provides policy makers with practical recommendations on how to step up ongoing international efforts to uncover flows of criminal funds and prevent criminals from misusing shell companies and other legal entities.
The study explains how corrupt public officials and their associates conceal their connection to ill-gotten funds by exploiting legal and institutional loopholes that allow opacity in companies, foundations and trust-like structures.
It also lists obstacles to investigating and establishing the origin and ownership of stolen assets: the difficulty of identifying where legal entities operate and have business relationships, lack of access to information on beneficial ownership and the use of complex and multi-jurisdictional corporate structures.
Drawing on evidence from relevant stakeholders, the report advised policymakers on how to effectively address the problem of corrupt payments made through opaque companies. In particular, the study recommends that more detailed information be collected in corporate registries, and that providers of legal, financial and administrative — incorporation and management — services to legal entities more effectively conduct due diligence on those controlling corporate entities.
The study is based on research including an analysis of 150 grand corruption cases and an examination of the practices of 40 jurisdictions and their company registries in collecting, updating and providing access to beneficial ownership information of legal entities.
The report also draws on the experiences of more than 77 experts from 33 jurisdictions in investigating the misuse of transnational legal structures.
The Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) is a partnership between the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that supports international efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds.
It works with developing countries and financial centres to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and to facilitate more systematic and timely return of stolen assets.