Europe: Ensure company data is transparent to bolster impact of sanctions

Europe: Ensure company data is transparent to bolster impact of sanctions - Transparency

A superyacht owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, Porto Cervo, Costa Smeralda, Italy. It has been reported that Usmanov transferred the majority of his assets to a trust that cannot be affected by recently-issued sanctions. Federico Stevanin/Shutterstock


On 9 March 2022, ARTICLE 19 and 126 leading leading transparency, anti-corruption, journalist and open data organisations issued a statement calling on European Union Institutions and Member States to act urgently to open company and beneficial ownership registers so as to facilitate tracking the hidden wealth of Russian oligarchs and to ensure effective sanctions.

This statement, signed by 127 leading transparency, anti-corruption, journalist and open data organisations, calls upon the European Union Institutions and Member States to act now and open up all company and beneficial ownership registers across the European Union to the public. This is a crucial step towards exposing the assets and wealth of Russian oligarchs in the EU.

We are deeply horrified by Putin’s incursion into Ukraine and the violation of the rule of law, human rights, and state sovereignty. We support the European Union in collectively taking a strong stance to defend democracy and our common values. The sanctions imposed – freezing assets, impeding financial transactions, and closing financial markets – that target Russian oligarchs, businessmen, and companies supporting or profiting from Putin’s regime, are an important step. Yet, for these sanctions to be enforced effectively, a robust and transparent system of company and beneficial ownership needs to be put in place. Moreover, we need this transparency to prevent dirty money becoming embedded in our economies in the future.

The European Union has been lauded for its progress in curbing the abuse of anonymous companies, in particular with the adoption of the 2019 Open Data Directive, which calls for company ownership information to be made freely accessible in open data format. It is therefore of great concern that the Commission has not yet adopted the Implementing Act, which should set out exactly which company information must be published and how. This means that Member States have no guidance on how to open up their company registers, in effect blocking company ownership transparency across the EU. This directly undermines the commitment to transparency agreed by the Member States in the Council and MEPs in the Parliament.

In terms of beneficial ownership transparency, the EU delivered a breakthrough with adoption in 2018 of the 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, which requires the creation of publicly accessible beneficial ownership registers. In reality, Member States are failing to act, and some have yet to set up these registers. Where these registers are in place, there are often barriers for public access, as the Directive leaves room for this, with many establishing fees that are way beyond cost recovery, and registration that severely restricts public access.

The result is that journalists, civil society, business, and even cross-border law enforcement cannot access the data they need. Right now, this means that information crucial for detecting and investigating companies and assets connected with the Putin regime is hard to obtain. The lack of transparency of company ownership is what allowed oligarchs to hide and launder their money in the first place, as a result buying assets and political influence inside the EU.

We know what needs to be done. We need a strong and robust system of company and beneficial ownership transparency in the EU. Denmark, Latvia, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine have shown us that opening up company and beneficial ownership registers is attainable. Our time to act is passing; let’s act now before it’s too late!

We call on the European Union institutions to:

  • Provide for transparency of company and beneficial ownership registers, published free of charge as open data across the EU, through both the Open Data Directive and the Anti-Money Laundering Package;
  • Prioritise the Implementation Act of the Open Data Directive, ensuring that it calls for complete public access to company ownership information as open data, in line with the letter and spirit of the Directive.

We call on Members of the European Parliament to:

  • Raise concerns with the Commission about lack of action and urge it to move forward immediately with implementation of the Open Data Directive, ensuring that the rules requiring full transparency of company ownership are in place as soon as possible.

We call on EU Member States to:

  • Open up company registers as open data, with access free of charge and unrestricted reuse;
  • Establish publicly-accessible beneficial ownership registers, where these are not yet in place, and all Member States should provide free and unrestricted access to this data.

Signatories to this statement:

Access Info Europe
Open Contracting Partnership
Open Ownership
Open State Foundation (NL)
The B Team
Transparency International
Transparency International EU
Access to Information Programme, Bulgaria
Anti-Corruption Fund, Bulgaria
Attac Austria
Attac Norway
AWTAD Anti-Corruption Organization
Basel Institute on Governance, Switzerland
Blueprint for Free Speech
Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland
Center for the Study of Democracy
Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
Centre For Development and Democratization Of Institutions (CDDI)
Centre for Free Expression (Canada)
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Malaysia
Centre Stratégique Pour La Promotion Du Développement Durable (CSPDD)
Christian Aid
Church Action for Tax Justice
Citizens Network Watchdog Poland
Comisión General Justicia y Paz
Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), Cambodia
Corporate Europe Observatory
Corruption Kills
Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity (CROSOL)
Economic Research Center, Azerbaijan
Ekvilib Inštitut
Environmental Association Za Zemiata / FoE Bulgaria
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Fair Play Alliance, Slovakia
Fair Tax Foundation
Financial Transparency Coalition
Forum Informationsfreiheit (Austria)
Foundation Open Society – Macedonia
Fundacion Mujeres en Igualdad, Argentina
Funky Citizens
Global Data Barometer
Global Financial Integrity
Government Transparency Institute
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor /Armenia/
Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina
Inštitút ľudských práv – Human Rights Institute
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information
Institute for Social Innovation
Integrity Watch for Accountable Governance IWAG Sibagat Philippines
Iraqi journalism rights defense association
Kosovo Democratic Institute / Transparency International Kosovo
Lithuanian NGDO Platform
Natural Resource Governance Institute
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Netzwerk Steuergerechtigkeit
NGO MANS, Montenegro
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
Ökotárs – Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation
Open Data Institute
Open DRC
Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
Parliament Watch Italia
Peace And Justice Alliance
Plataforma Catalana per una fiscalitat justa, ambiental i solidària
Plataforma por la Justicia Fiscal
Platform for Development Organisations – Ambrela
Public Official Association
Publish What You Pay
Publish What You Pay UK
Romanian Academic Society
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
SpeakOut SpeakUp Ltd
Syri i Vizionit
Tax Justice Netherlands
Tax Justice Network
Tax Justice Network Africa
Tax Reconciliations – Oxford UK
Tax Research UK
The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
The Signals Network
Today is a new day, Institute for other studies, Slovenia
Transcrime – Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Transcrime – UCSC)
Transparency and Accountability in Totality – FollowTaxes
Transparency and Accountability Initiative
Transparency International Austria
Transparency International Azerbaijan
Transparency International Canada
Transparency International Czech Republic
Transparency International Denmark
Transparency International España (TI-E)
Transparency International Estonia
Transparency International Finland
Transparency International France
Transparency International Georgia
Transparency International Germany
Transparency International Ireland
Transparency International Italia
Transparency International Latvia
Transparency International Lithuania
Transparency International Macedonia
Transparency International Netherlands
Transparency International Portugal
Transparency International Romania
Transparency International Sierra Leone
Transparency International Ukraine
Uzbek Forum for Human Rights
Vienna Institute for International Dialogue and Cooperaton (VIDC)
Vouliwatch (GR)
Whistleblowing International Network (WIN)
Women in Media Communication Initiative (WIM) Nigeria
Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights

New signatories after statement release:

Fundación Economistas sin Fronteras
Open3 Government Data Society
Spend Network
TaxEd Alliance