Transparency International welcomes the apparent correction in the records of Transparenzregister, Germany’s beneficial ownership register of companies, which now lists the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš as a beneficiary and shareholder of Agrofert’s German subsidiary. The case illustrates the need for the authorities to verify beneficial ownership information submitted to them by companies, as well as civil society’s role in scrutinising data.
In November 2020, Transparency International Germany alerted authorities that Agrofert’s German subsidiary, SKW Stickstoffwerke Piesteritz GmbH had failed to list Andrej Babiš as its beneficiary. Accessing the register this month, Transparency International confirmed that the records have since then been updated.
“Despite all the publicity that Agrofert generated, the Czech Prime Minister was able to conceal his personal and economic ties to the company’s German subsidiary,” said Stephan Klaus Ohme, financial expert at Transparency Germany. “It was disappointing to see this, especially as analogous registers of Slovakia and the United Kingdom had listed him as the owner. While we are pleased to see that the information has now been corrected, the case illustrates that Germany has a long way to go to improve on beneficial ownership transparency, especially when it comes to verifying data.”
Maíra Martini, Transparency International’s Research and Policy Expert said: “It’s not a surprise that registries around the EU have gaps. In the majority of EU countries, competent authorities do not verify information submitted to them by companies. The European Commission has a perfect opportunity to address this as part of the EU anti-money laundering single rulebook, which should be proposed in the coming months.”
Agrofert is a Czech conglomerate that has received significant public attention in recent years. In 2018, Transparency International Czech Republic tracked down its ownership through neighbouring Slovakia’s register of public sector partners’ beneficial owners. They found Prime Minister Andrej Babiš was the sole beneficiary of the two trust funds that owned Agrofert’s shares. Following their complaint, in 2020, the European Commission confirmed Prime Minister’s conflict of interests in relation to EU agricultural subsidies the company received. Babiš has denied wrongdoing.
Milan Eibl, Chief Analyst at Transparency International Czech Republic said: “The Agrofert saga showcases the power of public beneficial ownership registers. It also makes the case for improving and promoting public access to beneficial ownership data across the EU. The correction made to Germany’s register of company owners strengthens our anti-corruption efforts and encourages civil society everywhere in the EU to scrutinise available data.”
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