One year after the Panama Papers: A new tool to find out who owns companies

7 April 2017, by Zosia Sztykowski, OpenOwnership.

The Panama Papers leak ignited political will for corporate transparency and led to a number of commitments by countries around the world to establish central, public registers of beneficial ownership. The public nature of these registers was deemed critical to allowing access to the information for all potential users, including civil society watchdogs and business.

A year later, civil society must hold these countries to their promises – and there’s a new tool to help them do so.

On the anniversary of the Panama Papers leak, a group of civil society organisations and businesses launched the OpenOwnership Register: a single platform from which to access data about who owns companies from around the world in a way that is easy to use, and totally free.

OpenOwnership is also developing a universal and open data standard for beneficial ownership, which will provide a solid conceptual and practical foundation for collecting and publishing beneficial ownership data. The more countries adopt this standard, the more global beneficial ownership information will be linkable.

The ability to link beneficial ownership data across jurisdictions is critical to realising beneficial ownership data’s potential to expose transnational networks of illicit financial flows. As the World Bank and the UNODC StAR Initiative has noted, when corporate structures are used to launder money, this often involves adding layers of “legal distance” between the beneficial owner and their assets. These layers are placed strategically in a number of jurisdictions because of the difficulty investigators have in accessing information that crosses national boundaries.

The OpenOwnership Register enables users to see the various jurisdictions in which a single person controls companies. This depends, of course, on the availability of comprehensive, public data. Luckily, OpenOwnership provides a number of technical solutions for countries implementing public national registers, from integrating our technology with a central register or a procurement system to supporting countries in implementing our data standard.

There are a number of ways to get involved:

  • Test the Register: The OpenOwnership Register is currently in beta and we are looking for feedback on its usability, particularly from end-users of the data (e.g. investigators, due diligence officers and law enforcement). Try it out today!
  • Spread the word: Do you work with a government that promised to implement a public beneficial ownership register? Tell them about our tool and what it can offer.
  • Join our civil society working group: We will share tools and knowledge to build more corporate transparency around the world.

Or, contact OpenOwnership’s project coordinator, Zosia Sztykowski, directly.

About the author

Zosia Sztykowski

Zosia Sztykowski is the Project Coordinator for OpenOwnership, a new project to build an open register of global beneficial ownership in the public interest. With a background in cultural analysis and feminist organising, Zosia is dedicated to effecting policy and shifting norms in the interest of a more equal, more open society.