A bill requiring states to obtain information about the true ownership of all corporations will be introduced in Congress on Thursday, according to Carolyn Maloney, a congresswoman from New York. The lawmaker is looking to cut down on the creation of anonymously owned companies that often serve as ways to funnel “suspect” money into the US.
If the states are not able to obtain information about the ownership of corporations, the US Treasury Department will have to step in and do say, Maloney said on Monday.
Her announcement comes the morning after 60 Minutes aired footage filmed by Global Witness, an anti-corruption organization, revealing New York lawyers providing advice on how to ease flow of “grey” money into the US.
The film helps demonstrate how US-based lawyers often help create shell companies to hide “suspect money”, said Gillian Caldwell, CEO of Global Witness.
An undercover activist posing as an adviser to an African mining minister filmed meetings with 13 US law firms. Just one lawyer declined to advise him and would not recommend any other law firms for the “adviser” to approach. The other 12 lawyers were caught on camera advising how such shell companies could be used to purchase a Manhattan brownstone, a private jet and a luxury yacht – without having to disclose the actual owner was a supposed African minister.
“None of the lawyers we met with took us on as clients and none of them actually moved any money for us. None of them broke the law. In fact, that’s exactly the point. They showed us what is wrong with the law and what we need to change,” Caldwell explained. “They revealed in stark terms how the US legal system is wide open to access and exploitation by people who are up to no good.”
Without these shell companies, these “criminals” would not be able to enjoy their “loot”, Caldwell said. “Anonymous companies are like getaway cars for the criminal and the corrupt. And it’s time to take away the keys.”
Maloney called the Global Witness investigation “explosive”.
“I was astonished at the 12 New York law firms that not only were they listening, [but] they were suggesting new ways to move suspect money into the US to avoid detection. This is unacceptable, criminal and scandalous and it has to stop,” she said.
This will be the third time Maloney has introduced her bill. She would not say how many supporters her bill has so far but did say she sent a “Dear colleague” letter to other members of Congress asking for their support. Maloney also requested that the House financial services committee, on which she sits, hold a hearing on the issue.
“I have a great respect for anything that passes the United States Congress,” she laughed. “To get that fragile flower of consensus and the majority of votes, it takes a lot of work to make that happen.”
The congresswoman told reporters that she is now turning her full attention to making this bill happen.
“We have a real chance of getting something done in this Congress on this legislation,” she said.
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