Guest Post: Global Shell Games — Experimenting with Untraceable Shell Companies

GAB is delighted to welcome back guest contributor Professor Jason Sharman of Griffith University, Australia, who contributes the following post:

Among the various mechanisms for hiding and laundering large sums of money associated with corruption, shell companies that cannot be linked with their real owners have proved one of the most troublesome. A 2011 Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative report on laundering the proceeds of grand corruption noted that from a total of 213 cases, 150 involved the use of shell companies (or, more rarely, trusts) to launder $56.4 billion. Since 2003, all those governments bound by the standards of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have promised to ensure timely access to information on identity of those owning shell companies, and FATF rates member¬†countries according to their compliance and the overall level of risk they present. Despite (or perhaps because of) a renewed stress on tracing shell companies’ beneficial (i.e. real) owners, most recently at the G20 leaders’ summit in my home state of Brisbane, there are good reasons to be skeptical about whether the standards are really enforced.

Frustrated with the poor measurement of policy effectiveness in this area, Michael Findley, Daniel Nielson, and I decided to try a new approach. We ran a real-world experiment to see whether corporate service providers would comply with the rules on client screening, particularly in cases where the client profile raised “red flags.” Our findings, reported in our book Global Shell Games, were both worrying and counter-intuitive. Continue reading