Madrid, 8 February 2021 – As the OpenLux scandal unfolds, Access Info Europe today reiterated its call to the European Commission and national governments to open company registers fully as open data in order to fight corruption, tax evasion, and organised crime.
The European Commission has been dragging its heels in acting on the 2019 Open Data Directive, which designates company ownership data as a “high value dataset”.
This is in spite of a recognition of open company registers as having multiple benefits for society. A January 2021 letter from European Commissioners Jourová and Breton to Access Info and other organisations specifically states that the benefits of open company registers include “fighting crime, increased public engagement, … facilitating access to finance for SMEs, the business information sector or market research and various business analytics services”
- Read the news on the campaign to Open Company Registers here
There has, however, been pushback from Member States, causing the Commission to be cautious and to argue that there is a cost to opening up company registers (given that much company registration data is currently sold) and that there are data protection issues.
“OpenLux has shown once again how wrong these arguments are, we need to know the names of the owners of companies in order to address another huge cost to society: that of corruption and crime. This latter costs runs into many many millions,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info.
The OpenLux scandal demonstrates how a limited access to company ownership data – in this case the Luxembourg Beneficial Ownership Register – permits companies and individuals to carry out illegal and criminal activities with impunity. This came to light when the data scraped by Le Monde and analysed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and others.
“Once again it’s taken investigative journalists to reveal the problems, but only when it’s already too late and crimes have been committed. If we really want to prevent corruption, fraud, tax evasion, and criminality in Europe, the only way forward is transparency,” added Darbishire.
Access Info Europe has been working to open company registers since 2015. In April 2016, in coordination with the release of the Panama Papers, Access Info and OCCRP issued the report “It’s None of Your Business” which mapped the dire state of company ownership transparency in Europe.
Picture: Svetlana Tiourina/OCCRP