How did one of Italy’s most wanted mafia bosses register a company at 10 Downing Street without anyone noticing? Because a group of Italian journalists wanted to expose Britain’s flawed corporate registration system.
It took just a few clicks to make Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who has been on the run for the past 24 years, a regulated and active shareholder of a Private Limited in the UK.
Journalists from Il Sole 24 registered the company with Companies House at No 10, Prime Minister Theresa May’s official address.
The group, however, deliberately failed to pay the £12 (US$16) required to register. Doing so could have exposed them to fraud charges.
“There is nothing easier than creating ghost companies that can hide illegal activities or recycle money” under Britain’s liberalized corporate registration system, the reporters said.
The stunt comes after the Paradise Papers exposed how the British Overseas Territories dominate the world’s tax havens. Released at the beginning of the month, the papers consist of a huge leak of financial documents shedding light on how more than 120,000 high-profile figures and business people, as well as companies, dodged tax by investing their money offshore.
Britain said it supports EU efforts to blacklist tax havens, though it has been claimed that UK officials are silently lobbying for UK jurisdictions in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda to be kept off the list. It also seems to be against the introduction of strict sanctions against the countries listed.
Saying that no proof whatsoever was needed in registering the company, the reporters said: “London and Britain are the realm of ghost-related recycling companies. Shield companies registered in the country are involved in at least 52 major money laundering cases where at least £80 billion has been cleansed over the past 14 years.”
Although there are some rules in places for registering companies, the UK seems to be short of the resources it needs for a proper oversight of what start-ups are being regulated. The paper argued: “Companies House, the body that manages and supervises the company’s register, has neither the men nor the means to verify the reliability of the information that is entered at the time of the registration of a new entity.”