A corporate transparency bill introduced in the U.S. Congress last week will force disclosure of Nigerians and other nationals who run shell companies registered in the United States.
The bipartisan bill, ‘Corporate Transparency Act of 2017’, introduced by Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat, and co-sponsored by Congressman Peter King, a Republican, will compel disclosure of beneficial owners “to prevent wrongdoers from exploiting United States corporations and limited liability companies for criminal gain”.
Both legislators represent New York, a city that has been cited in several investigative reports (See report from Global Witness: Undercover in New York, Our hidden camera investigation reveals how suspect money can enter the U.S.) as one of the prime destinations for illicit financial flow from Nigeria.
The bill enjoys the support of members of the Financial Services Committee of the US Congress, law enforcement agencies, 44 anti-corruption advocacy groups, and 27 investors whose combined assets are in excess of $855 billion.
Nearly two million companies are registered in the United States every year, the bill will amend current incorporation law which often demand only basic information from proprietors and typically does not ask for the names of beneficial owners.
In her introduction, Congresswoman Maloney said “criminals have exploited the weaknesses in State formation procedures to conceal their identities when forming corporations or limited liability companies in the United States”.
“They then use the newly created entities to commit crimes affecting interstate and international commerce such as terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, tax evasion, securities fraud, financial fraud and acts of foreign corruption”, she added.
Congresswoman Maloney’s speech to U.S. Congress on June 28 coincides with recent uptick in Nigeria’s campaign for transparency in the financial sector. Speaking in Abuja on June 5 at the Conference on Promoting International Co-operation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo observed that the Thabo Mbeki-led High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa singled out Nigeria as source of most of the illicit fund flow out of Africa.
“The Thabo Mbeki report shows that most of the illicit funds flow that comes out of Africa are from Nigeria and that shows us very clearly especially the security agencies that we simply have to do more. It is evident that so much money is leaving our shores
“There is no way the transfer of this assets can happen without a handshake between the countries that they are transferred and the international banking institutions in the countries in which they are transferred, there is no way it will happen without some form of connivance”.
While the Acting President called for criminalizing financial institutions, Mr. Akere Muna of the International Anti-Corruption Conference Council who also chaired the conference drew attention to Mbeki Report’s emphasis on the need for transparency in all segments of financial transaction as the key to combating all “aspects of illicit financial flows”.
“New and innovative means of generating illicit financial flows are emerging; more effort is needed in asset recovery and repatriation; Weak national and regional capacities impede efforts to curb illicit financial flows; Financial secrecy jurisdictions must come under closer scrutiny,” he said.
Speaking at the conference, Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ms. Kemi Adeosun stressed the long-term commitment needed to combat cross-border illicit financial transactions, “we’re still collaborating with other nations of the world to repatriate funds stolen from Nigeria 20 years ago”, she said.
Congresswoman Maloney similarly calls for international collaboration on corporate transparency. “Anonymous shell companies have become the preferred vehicle for money launderers, criminal organizations, and terrorist groups because they can’t be traced back to their true owners” said, adding that “the U.S. is one of the easiest places in the world to set up an anonymous shell companies”.
“Frankly, it’s an embarrassment. We need to fix this gaping hole in our national security and listen to law enforcement who is requesting these changes”.