Multiple dozens of “ghost” companies transparency campaigners claim are often used as vehicles for secretly moving money around the world are using a small rural home in Northern Ireland as a front for their activities.
The owner of the Co Down house did not know about the use of her home by the companies, many of which can be traced back to a single address in the Seychelles.
Activists and politicians in the UK are pushing for amendments to an economic crime bill currently making its way through parliament to force these types of companies to be more transparent by revealing the names of the beneficial owners, to file accounts and have some type of physical presence in the country.
Companies formed as limited partnerships and registered in the UK have been linked to criminal activities and the illegal movement of money, particularly in and out of eastern Europe, including Russia, Ukraine and Moldova.
“It is about hiding assets, hiding ownership…and they are able to move vast amounts of money without reporting,” said Ben Cowdock, lead investigator at Transparency International.
“They do not have to file accounts and are able to move vast amounts of money without reporting.
“That house is the lowest rung of the ladder but it is used on paperwork when approaching banks or electronic payment providers. A UK or Irish address also adds a level of respectability when it comes to dealing with international banks.
“Many banks know they are high risk and will not work with them but certain banks will go out of their way to do so, particularly in certain jurisdictions with weaker enforcement.”
The Irish News identified 91 limited partnerships listing the rural home as their business address. Paperwork on the companies is sparse but patterns emerge during a trawl of the firms.
A large number of the businesses can be traced back to an address in the Seychelles, many of them linked to two particular companies. Dozens were previously registered at another address in Newry but moved in the last year.
The addresses also include a suite number, up to more than 400, even though the house is a small single family home. Companies were still being registered in the last two weeks.
When sent the list, the home’s owner said she did not recognise any of the names of the limited partnerships. She runs a legal mail drop business from her home, where more than 200 companies are listed in Companies Houses as having their nominal address.
Mr Cowdock said: “We are looking for amendments in the new Economic Crime Bill which addresses long standing issues around the UK, and particularly London, helping to facilitate the movement of dark money around the world.”
The UK Government said it is aware some “some limited partnerships (LPs) have been abused…and intends to crack down on their misuse”.
“In addition, the current legislation is over 100 years old and is outdated. The government is introducing reforms that will tackle this abuse and bring the legislation up to date, while ensuring that limited partnerships remain attractive to legitimate investors.”