The identity of the owners of anonymous companies who work behind closed doors against the “public good” should no longer be kept private, Charmian Gooch, co-founder of Global Witness, said Tuesday as she received the TED Prize at the TED2014 conference.
Anonymous companies, explained Gooch, are extremely cheap and easy to set up and are completely legal. In places like Delaware, for instance, it can be done online through a simple form and a small fee. The owner’s name is easy to hide or at least keep out of public knowledge. And like Russian dolls, company owners hide multiple companies layered within one “shell” company structure, which can stretch across multiple countries.
“Each layer adds anonymity,” said Gooch, and makes it more difficult for law enforcement and others to find out who the real owner is. “This truly is a scandal of epic proportions hidden in plain sight.”
“It’s easy to think that corruption happens somewhere over there, carried out by a bunch of greedy despots,” said Gooch in her previous TED talk in 2013, which led to the award. “The reality is that the engine of corruption exists far beyond the shores of countries like Equatorial Guinea or Nigeria or Turkmenistan. This engine is driven by our international banking system, by the problem of anonymous shell companies, by the secrecy that we have afforded big oil, gas and mining operations and, most of all, by the failure of our politicians to back up their rhetoric.”
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