Brussels/Madrid, 4 June 2015 – Access Info Europe has welcomed the adoption of the EU’s Anti Money Laundering Directive obliging Member States to set up a central registry of beneficial owners of companies, but has warned that this information will not be available to investigative journalists and civil society watchdogs unless Member States take steps to ensure that the registers are public.

The Anti Money Laundering Directive

[1], which EU Member States now have two years to transpose into national law, requires each country to maintain a centralised database on the natural persons behind legal structures, in a bid to crackdown on “shell” or “phantom” companies.

Access Info Europe has warned that this information may not be available to those investigating corruption, money laundering, tax crimes, and human rights violations, because the Directive only provides that beneficial ownership information be given to those with a “legitimate interest” but fails adequately to define what constitutes such an interest, leaving this up to each Member States to define.

Rather than require proof of a legitimate interest, EU Member States should follow the example of the United Kingdom, which has decided to publish its company register in a free and open format, including beneficial ownership information,” said Pam Bartlett Quintanilla, Campaigner at Access Info Europe.

Denmark has made similar commitments. The issue of beneficial ownership has been at the top of the agenda during G8 and G20 summits in recent years. Company registers were identified as a “high value” dataset for release to the public as part of the Open Data Charter adopted at the June 2013 G8 Summit but research by Access Info has shown that it is possible to obtain free bulk access to the registers in only 2 out of 32 European countries, whilst in the vast majority of cases there are barriers to access including exorbitant fees and/or restrictions on the ability to search through the data.

Access Info Europe has also previously recommended transparency of beneficial ownership as a cornerstone for ensuring media freedom and pluralism, following research into media ownership transparency across Europe.

Notes[1] The Anti Money Laundering Directive was adopted by the European Parliament on 13 May 2015 and is scheduled for publication in the official journal in June or July 2015, it should be transposed into national law by Member States by mid 2017. Its full name is:

DIRECTIVE (EU) 2015/… OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing, amending Regulation (EU) No 648/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Directive 2005/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Commission Directive 2006/70/EC.

For more information, please contact:

Pam Bartlett Quintanilla | Access Info Europe +34 913 656 558