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European Commission must uphold corporate transparency in the 6th Anti-Money Laundering Directive

Open letter to Mairead McGuinness, European Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union

Dear Commissioner McGuinness,

We, representatives of civil society, media and academia from across the EU and beyond, are writing to you on the eve of interinstitutional negotiations on the EU’s anti-money laundering legislative package with an urgent appeal. We call on you to explicitly support strong provisions for meaningful stakeholder access to beneficial ownership registers that were recently proposed by the European Parliament. How the co-legislators proceed on this crucial issue will determine whether or not the bloc slides back into the corporate secrecy era following last year’s adverse ruling by the EU’s highest court. With your track record of path-breaking reforms to combat financial crime, we look now to the European Commission to help ensure that the 6th Anti-Money Laundering Directive fully mitigates this risk and enables civil society actors to fulfil their watchdog role as recognised by the court.

In recent years, anonymous companies have become synonymous with money laundering, but they are also conduits of corruption, tax abuse and environmental crime. Thanks to the decades of secrecy that such opaque entities have provided, unscrupulous individuals from across the world were able to find safe haven in the EU – circumventing sanctions, evading accountability and committing further crimes with impunity.

With such widespread infractions, EU authorities alone cannot uncover all the abuses and keep up with criminals’ evolving methods. Many schemes and remaining loopholes would go undetected if not for the dedicated work of investigative journalists, activists and academics around the world.

The EU acknowledged this back in 2015 and then again in 2018 with its anti-money laundering directive, which established and then widened stakeholder access to information on companies’ real owners. The impact of these measures was just becoming visible when last November the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) delivered a surprise ruling invalidating public access provisions and reinstating the previous directive where access to beneficial ownership data was based on legitimate interest.

The legitimate interest regime under the 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive had many flaws – which led the EU to repeal it and mandate public access in the first place. Most glaringly, member states applied different criteria when dealing with requests for such information. There were cases in which one member state would grant an applicant access, while another would reject the very same request, or data would be given to civil society organisations but not investigative journalists. Such wide discretion is prone to abuse, prejudice and regulatory arbitrage and must be safeguarded against in the 6th Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

The CJEU itself recognised that journalists and civil society organisations involved in the prevention of money laundering and its predicate offences have legitimate interest in accessing the information. This means that EU co-legislators need to now spell out the modalities to ensure that such stakeholders have, in practice, access to beneficial ownership information without having to demonstrate their legitimate interest on a case-by-case basis.

As the EU likely transitions back to requiring user registration, it is also critical to protect against risks of tipping off suspect companies as well as retaliation against journalists and activists. The existing provision that allows member states to make information relating to the author of a request, along with its legal basis, available to the company in question becomes even more problematic under a legitimate interest access regime. EU co-legislators should ensure that no data on those accessing beneficial ownership information are shared with the companies or their beneficial owners under any circumstances.

We note that the co-legislators have already agreed their positions on the pending legislation. In particular, the European Parliament has made a full suite of progressive amendments to ensure that civil society, media, academia and foreign competent authorities do not encounter barriers when seeking ownership information for anonymous companies created across the EU, regardless of where they are based. And they did so while fully respecting the CJEU ruling. Now, we look to you to match the Parliament’s ambition and unequivocally support the right of investigative journalists, activists and academics – around the world – to access the information freely and without undue restrictions.

The EU has an important responsibility to ensure that we and our allies can meaningfully contribute to efforts safeguarding EU’s financial integrity and counter the abuses committed worldwide with the help of EU companies. We urge the Commission to do its part.


  1. David Szakonyi, George Washington University
  2. Frederik Obermaier, Paper Trail Media
  3. Gabriel Zucman, Paris School of Economics and University of California at Berkeley
  4. Jon Allen, Canadian diplomat (retired)
  5. Judith Henke, Handelsblatt
  6. Kilian Wegner, European University Viadrina
  7. Matthew C. Stephenson, Harvard Law School
  8. Michael Johnston, Colgate University and the International Anti-Corruption Academy
  9. Mihály Fazekas, Central European University
  10. Mohamad El-Ghazi, University of Trier
  11. Nicola Naber, Der Spiegel
  12. Paul Heywood, University of Nottingham
  13. Rafael Buschmann, Der Spiegel
  14. Thomas Piketty, Paris School of Economics and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences
  15. Till Zimmermann, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Global and regional organisations

  1. Access Info Europe
  2. Accountability Lab
  3. Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice
  4. Anti-Corruption Data Collective
  5. ARTICLE 19
  6. BEPS Monitoring Group
  7. C4ADS
  8. Centre for Law and Democracy
  9. Civil Forum for Asset Recovery (CiFAR)
  10. Civil Liberties Union for Europe
  11. Defend Democracy
  12. Eurodad – European Network on Debt and Development
  13. European Federation of Journalists
  14. FACT Coalition
  15. Fair Tax Foundation
  16. Freedom for Eurasia
  17. Fundación Vortex
  18. Global Financial Integrity
  19. Global Forum for Media Development
  20. IMPACT
  21. Integrity Initiatives International
  22. Municipal Scanner
  23. Natural Resource Governance Institute
  24. Never Again Coalition
  25. OpenCorporates
  26. Open Contracting Partnership
  27. Open Ownership
  28. Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
  29. Oxfam
  30. Plateforme de Protection des Lanceurs d'Alerte en Afrique (PPLAAF)
  31. Publish What You Pay
  32. Resource Matters
  33. South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  34. Tax Justice Network
  35. The Baltic Centre for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica
  36. The ONE Campaign
  37. The Sentry
  38. Transparency and Accountability Initiative
  39. Transparency International
  40. Transparency International EU
  41. UNCAC Coalition

National organisations

  1. 11.11.11 (Belgium)
  2. ABColombia
  3. Acción Ciudadana (Guatemala)
  4. Albanian Institute for Political Studies
  5. AlQatiba (Tunisia)
  6. Anticorruption Endowment (Czech Republic)
  7. Anti-Corruption Research Centre, Dublin City University
  8. Association des Journalistes pour la Transparence (France)
  9. Association luxembourgeoise des journalistes professionnels
  10. Attac Austria
  11. Austrian Rule of Law & Anti-Corruption Public Referendum
  12. AWTAD Anti-Corruption Organization (Yemen)
  13. Bureau for Investigative Reporting and Data (Bulgaria)
  14. Bürgerbewegung Finanzwende (Germany)
  15. CCFD-Terre Solidaire (France)
  16. Center for the Study of Democracy and Governance (Albania)
  17. Centre for Peace Studies (Croatia)
  18. Centre for Public Data (UK)
  19. Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS (Latvia)
  20. Centre for the Study of Corruption, University of Sussex
  21. Christian Fellowship and Care Foundation (Nigeria)
  22. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (Nigeria)
  23. CNCD-11.11.11 (Belgium)
  24. Coalizione Italiana Libertà e i Diritti civili
  25. Collège européen des Investigations financières (France)
  26. Community Initiative for Social Empowerment (Malawi)
  27. Construisons Ensemble le Monde (DRC)
  28. Context Investigative Reporting Project (Romania)
  29. CurbingCorruption (UK)
  30. Delfi Estonia
  31. Die Dunkelkammer (Austria)
  32. Disruption Network Lab (Germany)
  33. EcoAlbania
  34. Falter (Austria)
  35. Finnwatch (Finland)
  36. Freedom of Information Center of Armenia
  37. Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo (Ecuador)
  38. Fundación Multitudes (Chile)
  39. Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo (El Salvador)
  40. Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Libertad Ciudadana (Panama)
  41. Fundación para el Desarrollo de Políticas Sustentables (Argentina)
  42. Funky Citizens (Romania)
  43. Gender Alliance for Development Center (Albania)
  44. Gong (Croatia)
  45. Gotham City (Switzerland)
  46. Hetq (Armenia)
  47. Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania)
  48. Infrastructure Transparency Initiative Ethiopia
  49. Institute for Democracy and Mediation (Albania)
  50. Investigative Reporting Lab (North Macedonia)
  51. Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association
  52. Journalistic Data Processing Centre (Georgia)
  53. K-Monitor (Hungary)
  54. Kosova Democratic Institute
  55. La Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (Honduras)
  56. Libera (Italy)
  57. Ligue Congolaise De Lutte Contre La Corruption (DRC)
  58. Mafianeindanke (Germany)
  59. Media and Law Studies Association (Turkey)
  60. Movimento de Combate à Corrupção Eleitoral (Brazil)
  61. Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business
  62. National Whistleblower Center (US)
  63. Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector – MANS (Montenegro)
  64. Netzwerk Recherche (Germany)
  65. Netzwerk Steuergerechtigkeit (Germany)
  66. New Apostolic Centre for Development (Nigeria)
  67. Norwegian Press Association
  68. Observatoire citoyen pour la transparence financière internationale (France)
  69. Open Data Association (Ukraine)
  70. Open State Foundation (Netherlands)
  71. Oštro (Croatia)
  72. Oštro (Slovenia)
  73. Participación Ciudadana (Dominican Republic)
  74. Partners Albania for Change and Development
  75. PEPWatch (Czech Republic)
  76. Poder Ciudadano (Argentina)
  77. Proética (Peru)
  78. Profil (Austria)
  79. Project On Government Oversight (US)
  80. Public Eye (Switzerland)
  81. Publish What You Pay Madagascar
  82. Siena (Lithuania)
  83. Skatteforsk – Centre for Tax Research (Norway)
  84. Society for Democratic Culture (Albania)
  85. Solidaires Finances Publiques (France)
  86. Splann! (France)
  87. Spotlight on Corruption (UK)
  88. Stichting Mission Lanka (Netherlands)
  89. Sustentia (Spain)
  90. Tax Justice Netherlands
  91. Tax Justice Network Australia
  92. Tax Justice Norway
  93. Terra-1530 (Moldova)
  94. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation (Malta)
  95. The Norwegian Union of Journalists
  96. Transparencia Venezuela
  97. Transparency International Armenia
  98. Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina
  99. Transparency International Brazil
  100. Transparency International Cambodia
  101. Transparency International Canada
  102. Transparency International Chile
  103. Transparency International Colombia
  104. Transparency International Czech Republic
  105. Transparency International Denmark
  106. Transparency International Estonia
  107. Transparency International France
  108. Transparency International Georgia
  109. Transparency International Germany
  110. Transparency International Ghana
  111. Transparency International Guyana
  112. Transparency International Hungary
  113. Transparency International Indonesia
  114. Transparency International Ireland
  115. Transparency International Italy
  116. Transparency International Latvia
  117. Transparency International Lebanon
  118. Transparency International Lithuania
  119. Transparency International Macedonia
  120. Transparency International Madagascar
  121. Transparency International Malaysia
  122. Transparency International Netherlands
  123. Transparency International New Zealand
  124. Transparency International Portugal
  125. Transparency International Romania
  126. Transparency International Russia
  127. Transparency International Serbia
  128. Transparency International Slovenia
  129. Transparency International Spain
  130. Transparency International Switzerland
  131. Transparency International Taiwan
  132. Transparency International Turkey
  133. Transparency International UK
  134. Transparency International US
  135. Transparency International Zimbabwe
  136. U Ethical (Australia)
  137. Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
  138. Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore – Transcrime (Italy)
  139. Veille Citoyenne Togo
  140. Vienna Institute for International Dialogue and Cooperation
  141. Young Professionals Network (Albania)
  142. Zimbabwe Women Against Corruption Trust