How Britain can help you get away with stealing millions: a five-step guide (posted by Comsure in 6 postings 4/6)
Dirty money needs laundering if it’s to be of any use – and the UK is the best place in the world to do it. = part 4
- To read part 1 of this article please click here
- To read part 2 of this article please click here
- To read part 3 of this article please click here
Step 3: Make stuff up
This third step may be the hardest to really take in, because it seems too simple. Since 2016, the UK government has made it compulsory for anyone setting up a company to name the individual who actually owns it: “the person with significant control”, or PSC. Before this reform it was possible to own a company with another company and, if that company was not British, the actual owner could hide their identity.
In theory, the introduction of the PSC rule should have prevented the use of a British shell company to anonymously commit financial crime. Don’t worry though, because it didn’t. Here is the secret: no one checks the accuracy of the information you provide when you register with Companies House. You can say pretty much anything and Companies House will accept it.
So this is step three: when you’re entering the information to create your company, make mistakes. Suspicious typos are everywhere once you start delving into the Companies House database. For instance, many money-laundering investigations involving the former USSR eventually bump against a Belgian-based dentist, whose signature adorns the accounts of hundreds, if not thousands, of different companies, including Lantana Trade LLP. When he was tracked down to his home address in Belgium last year, the dentist claimed that his signature had been forged and that he had no connection to the companies. Whoever was filing the documents was remarkably imaginative when it came to spelling his name. Every document filed with the UK registry has the same signature, but his name is spelt in at least eight different ways: Ali Moulaye, Alli Moulaye, Aly Moulaye, Ali Moyllae, Ali Moulae, Ali Moullaye, Aly Moullaye and, oddly, Ian Virel.
With such boundless opportunities for creativity, why not have fun? Recently, while messing about on the Companies House website, I came across a PSC named Mr Xxx Stalin, who is apparently a Frenchman resident in east London. It is perhaps technically possible that Xxx is a genuine name given to Mr Stalin by eccentric parents – but, if so, such eccentric parents are remarkably widespread.
Xxx Stalin led me to a PSC of a different company, who was named Mr Kwan Xxx, a Kazakh citizen, resident in Germany; then to Xxx Raven; to Miss Tracy Dean Xxx; to Jet Xxx; and finally to (their distant cousin?) Mr Xxxx Xxx. These rabbitholes are curiously engrossing, and before long I’d found Mr Mmmmmmm Yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, and Mr Mmmmmm Xxxxxxxxxxx (correspondence address: Mmmmmmm, Mmmmmm, Mmm, MMM), at which point I decided to stop.
As trolling goes, it is quite funny, but the implications are also very serious, if you think about what companies are supposed to be for. Limited companies and partnerships have their liability for debts limited, which means that if they go bust, their investors are not personally bankrupted. It’s a form of insurance – society as a whole is accepting responsibility for entrepreneurs’ debts, because we want to encourage entrepreneurial behaviour. In return, entrepreneurs agree to publish details about their companies so we can all check what they are up to, and to make sure they’re not abusing our trust.
The whole point of the PSC registry was to stop fraudsters obscuring their identities behind shell companies, and yet, thanks to Companies House’s failure to check the information provided to it and thus to enforce the rules, they are still doing so. How exactly could society find someone who gives their identity as Mr Xxxxxxxxxxx, and their address as the chorus of a Crash Test Dummies song?
Even when the company documents provide an actual name, rather than a random selection of letters, the information is often very hard to believe. For example, in September, Companies House registered Atlas Integrate Services LLP, which declared a PSC with a date of birth that showed her to be just two months old at the time. In her two months of life, she had not only found time to get started in business, but also apparently to get married, since she was listed as “Mrs”. The LLP’s incorporation document states: “This person holds the right, directly or indirectly, to appoint or remove a majority of the persons who are entitled to take part in the management of the LLP”. It does not explain how exactly a babe in arms would achieve this.
This is not a one-off. The anti-corruption campaign group Global Witness looked into PSCs last year, and found 4,000 of them were under the age of two. One hadn’t even been born yet. At the opposite end of the spectrum, its researchers found five individuals who each controlled more than 6,000 companies. There are more than 4m companies at Companies House, which is a very large haystack to hide needles in.
You don’t actually even need to list a person as your company’s PSC. It’s permissible to say that your company doesn’t know who owns it (no, you’re not misunderstanding; that just doesn’t make sense), or simply to tie the system up in knots by listing multiple companies in multiple jurisdictions that no investigator without the time and resources of the FBI could ever properly check.
This is why step three is such an important one in the five-step pathway to creating a British shell company. If you can invent enough information when filing company accounts, then the calculation that underpins the whole idea of a company goes out of the window: you gain the protection from legal action, without giving up anything in return. It’s brilliant.
But don’t dive in just yet; there are two more steps to follow before you can be confident of doing it properly.