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Civil Society Advancing Beneficial Ownership Transparency

Civil Society Advancing Beneficial Ownership Transparency

Local events gather experts and key stakeholders of the CSABOT project, such as civil society organisations, journalists, academics, representatives of BO registers and of the private sector, to discuss challenges and opportunities for the future of beneficial ownership transparency in their country.

Final Event in Belgium - 30 November

On 30 November, more than 90 in-person and 400 virtual representatives from national authorities, EU institutions, civil society, private sector, academia, and media met in Brussels to take stock of progress and discuss the findings from the CSABOT project at the high-level conference: Curbing financial crimes in Europe with beneficial ownership transparency.

Participants were united in the view that ensuring access to beneficial ownership transparency is key in the fight to stop illicit money flows, counter corruption and prevent money laundering and terrorism financing. The role of the civil society, activists, academia, and journalists was particularly emphasized. The broad consensus on the need for the accessibility of this data emerged despite the recent EU Court of Justice (CJEU) ruling which restricted access to beneficial ownership registers to those who can prove legitimate interest. With the new anti-money laundering package being discussed in the European institutions, participants and speakers reflected on the recommendations that would advance beneficial ownership transparency, including: a clear definition of beneficial ownership, improving accessibility and usability of the registers, improving the quality of the data and strategies to interconnect the beneficial ownership information across the EU to effectively combat financial crime.

Event in Ireland- 3 and 4 November

The last training of the CSABOT project took place in Ireland on 3 and 4 November 2022, bringing 19 participants from the civil society, academia, and the media to the virtual two-day event. Participants engaged in interactive sessions on anti-money laundering (AML) and beneficial ownership transparency in Europe, the register's regulatory framework, and the types of accessible data. Attendants were also given strategies to access, verify and analyse beneficial ownership information as members of the civil society interested in the AML field.

Event in Belgium - 28 October

Transparency International Belgium, in partnership with the law and tax firm Loyens & Loeff, held the event The Belgian Ultimate Beneficial Owner (UBO) register; State of play & the role for watchdogs on 18 October in Brussels.

The event brought together 31 members of the civil society, the private and public sector– including a member of the Belgian Ministerial Cabinet – to discuss the complementarity of the current legal framework and the role of the media and other watchdogs in monitoring UBOs. Prominent cases where the use of the national ultimate beneficial ownership register led to uncovering malpractice and criminal activities were showcased.

Participants in local event in Belgium on 28 October, Brussels. Photo: Transparency International

The need to demonstrate a legitimate interest and to have a Belgian ID was referred to as a barrier for civil society to play its watchdog role.

Emerging recommendations and conclusions from the discussions included an EU Regulation that clearly defines beneficial ownership, a call for better data accuracy and quality that would be boosted by innovative ways of verifying information, and finally, a global extension of UBO registration that should be supported by the EU.

Event in Portugal - 26 and 27 October

Transparency International Portugal organised a two-day online training on 26 and 27 October aimed at building the capacity of civil society actors and organisations to better understand and use information on beneficial owners in the fight against money laundering and other financial crimes. 64 people from diverse backgrounds attended , including representatives from the private and public sector, civil society, and academia. The training combined lectures, interactive sessions, and exercises to engage participants to better understand and use information on beneficial owners in the fight against money laundering and other financial crimes.

Event in Italy - 13 and 14 October

Tax Justice Italia, Transparency International Italia and Transcrime held the two-day training in Italy on 3 and 4 November 2022. They brought together 33 participants from the civil society, academia, and the media, the public and the private sector. On the first day, the topics of AML/CFT and beneficial ownership were introduced, at the European and national level. The training combined theory and practice aimed at building capacity within civil society. The second day focused on verification and the analysis of beneficial and legal ownership data. Survey results as well as the conversations with participants indicate that the inputs and discussions were welcomed and well received.

Event in France - 28 September

Transparency International France organised an open in-person event entitled “Ownership transparency: Current situation and prospects” on 28 September in Paris.

The event brought together 80 experts and practitioners from civil society, academia, media, private sector and public agencies – including law enforcement – committed to advancing the beneficial ownership (BO) transparency agenda. In a first roundtable, the French Anti-Money Laundering (AML) public authorities and representatives of regulated professionals discussed the progress made possible since the creation of a beneficial ownership register in France. The second roundtable collected the views and experience of civil society on how they have been able to use of the beneficial ownership register while investigating money laundering, tax abuse and other financial crimes through, for example, cross-analysing the French BO register and the real estate register.

Participants discussed the availability and quality of BO data in France and their interconnection with other data. They debated to what extent sanction regimes against professionals and entities subject to disclosure and anti-money laundering obligations are dissuasive and proposed recommendations for improvement on the eve of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union examining the anti-money laundering package.

Journalists and academia raised several limitations related to the lack of historical data in the French BO register and the lack of information on the place of incorporation of foreign entities in the ownership chain of French companies, while NGO representatives called for the opening to the public of trust BO registers as well as for improving access modalities to the BO register of companies.

Event in Luxembourg – 27 September

Collectif Tax Justice Luxembourg (CTJL) held a closed in-person half-day conference “A tool for more transparency? The Luxembourg Business Registers: Outcome and perspectives” on 27 September 2022 in Luxembourg City. The event brought together 16 participants from a diverse set of backgrounds – from competent authorities, to civil society and the media, to obliged entities.

Participants discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the Luxembourg beneficial ownership (BO) register. They commended the coverage and good quality of the register in terms of its free-of-charge accessibility and interactive functionality when compared to other BO databases. In terms of potential areas for improvement, they questioned the high thresholds of 25 per cent ownership for inclusion into the BO register and recommended considering much lower thresholds to effectively disclose beneficial owners and prevent money laundering. They also recommended improving the searchability of the register. Journalists and civil society participants called for more severe sanctions applying to companies which do not comply on time with the BO disclosure requirements.

The event also provided a welcome opportunity for interested parties active in the field to interact and discuss potential cooperation beyond the event.

Event in Italy – 26 September

The Italian CSABOT local event “Transparency of beneficial ownership: Latest developments and opportunities” took place on 26 September 2022 as an open online and in-person event. 24 representatives from civil society, media, competent authorities and obliged entities came together in-person to discuss the upcoming creation of the Italian beneficial register.

The event was structured around the recent developments in the Italian Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Legislation and opportunities to increase transparency and accessibility of beneficial ownership information. Participants stressed the importance of publicly accessible, reliable and accurate beneficial ownership registers to fight money laundering and financial crimes.

The speakers provided insights on the information that will be included in the forthcoming register of beneficial owners, its role in preventing and combating financial crimes, the mandate of the Italian AML stakeholders and further collaboration with civil society actors.

Civil society, media and public administration representatives stressed the need to increase the accessibility of beneficial ownership (BO) registers, underpinned existing setbacks and loopholes in transparency and focused on promoting a culture of transparency and openness of information.

Event in Spain – 23 September

The Spanish CSABOT event took place on 23 September 2022 in Madrid under the title of “Beneficial ownership transparency in Spain: Towards a transparent and meaningful national register of beneficial owners”. Organised as a hybrid event by Transparency International Spain, it brought together 100 participants online and in-person to discuss the status of beneficial ownership transparency in Spain, beneficial ownership transparency in Europe and the role of civil society to advance beneficial ownership transparency.

While Spain has been a pioneer in promoting beneficial ownership transparency with the creation of a database of beneficial owners as early as 2012, the country is experiencing delays in establishing a centralised registry of beneficial owners. The event provided an opportunity to compare experiences and draw lessons from other European registries for the upcoming Spanish central register. In particular, the cases of Italy, Austria and Luxembourg were presented.

Speakers and participants also discussed the need for ensuring adequate, accurate and up-to-date beneficial ownership (BO) data with independent verification mechanisms, the importance of promoting the use and accessibility of the data by all relevant stakeholders and making progress in ensuring the interconnection of data.

Participants stressed that all countries need to be involved and cooperate to advance the BO transparency agenda at the national, regional and global levels and the importance of using international meetings and forums to raise awareness, share knowledge and advocate for improved standards of beneficial ownership transparency worldwide.

Event in Estonia - 20 September

Transparency International Estonia organised a closed in-person half-day event entitled “Beneficial Ownership Transparency: What and Who For?” on 20 September 2022 in Tallin. 46 representatives from civil society organisations, academia, the media, public institutions and private sector committed to the beneficial ownership transparency (BOT) agenda attended the meeting. Local and international experts started by setting the stage for more in-depth discussions amongst participants with presentations focused on the status of BOT in Estonia, the use of BOT data by activists, investigative journalists and law enforcement and good practice in data disclosure, accessibility and verification.

Group discussions then enabled participants to interact and identify current challenges and present possible solutions to advance BOT in Estonia. Participants identified restrictions on access to data for a wider circle of stakeholders (e.g. CSOs and independent journalists), including but not limited to the existence of a fee (to be abolished in October) to access BO data. They also stressed the need to promote data interoperability and consistency across the EU. Participants also called for ensuring the technical quality and reliability of the data and for applying enforcement mechanisms and adequate sanctions in case of non-compliance with disclosure requirements.

Event in Portugal - 15 September

Transparency International Portugal organised the “Transparency of Beneficial Owners: Challenges and Opportunities in Portugal” conference as a one day in-person open conference on 15 September 2022 in Lisbon. The event brought together more than 40 former members of the European Parliament, journalists, and representatives from the legal, and accounting and financial sectors as well as government representatives in charge of the beneficial ownership (BO) register. The different sessions discussed the BO in the national anti-money laundering system and terrorist financing, and the current challenges in Portugal.

Participants agreed that while a lot has been done in Portugal from a legislative point of view, there are still shortcomings related to beneficial ownership transparency, mostly from an operational and enforcement perspective. The national legislation is complex, with multiple entities and departments with similar missions, which often leads to a lack of communication and coordination between them and prevents greater compliance. The panellists also called for a global response to stop money laundering, since national legislations will fail at effectively preventing money laundering and financial crimes if other jurisdictions, including in the EU, continue to offer several services aimed at facilitating money laundering and tax avoidance.

The event also explored the contribution Central Register of Beneficial Owner (RCBE) in overcoming the challenges related to BO, and the importance of Anti-corruption activism for promoting greater BO transparency.

For more details on the agenda and interventions, TI Portugal published a short blogpost available in Portuguese here.

Training in Greece - 12 and 13 September

Transparency International Greece organised a two-day online training including Greek experts in the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) field and representatives of international civil society organisations active in the Beneficial Ownership and financial crime sector.

The first day was focused on EU and national policies to combat anti-money laundering and financing of terrorism, and the role, organisation and operations of the beneficial ownership registers in Europe and in Greece. The second day was dedicated to the collection methods, verification, quality assessment, processing and use of data included in the Beneficial Ownership Register. During the last session attendees discussed collaboration tools and networking opportunities among civil society actors.

Event in Germany - 1 September

Tax Justice Network Germany and Transparency International Deutschland e.V. hosted an open hybrid event with the title “Ownership transparency and the effective fight against money laundering” on 1 September in Berlin. The event organisation was timely with the ongoing debate and campaign around beneficial ownership transparency and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) reforms in Germany.

80 experts from non-profit organisations, academia, journalism, the private sector and public bodies attended the meeting in-person, while 310 participants joined online. The programme was structured around three pillars, starting with a smaller more content-focused session tailored for professionals working on related topics and taking place during working hours and followed by a more policy focused evening session targeting the wider policy community.

The event was closed by a reception that brought together experts from the first part of the event with policy makers and analysts from the second part of the event and resulted in very lively discussions and exchanges to foster opportunities for networking and collaboration among participants. Discussions focused on three major areas, including the availability and quality of BO data in Germany as well as reform potential, the role and design of the new body for the fight against complex money laundering cases and the linkage between AML reform efforts and the efforts around sanctions implementation.

Event in Romania – 20 July 2022

Transparency International Romania organised a close half-day roundtable discussion on beneficial ownership (BO) transparency in Romania, targeting an informed audience of experts, BO information users and key stakeholders in Bucharest, on 20 July 2022. The event was attended by 34 participants drawn from law enforcement authorities and responsible institutions, civil society organisations (CSOs), the media and academia to ensure a balanced representation of interested parties.

An introductory presentation on the new FATF recommendations and its implications for Romania, followed by topical presentations and discussions on how the beneficial ownership register has been implemented and used in Romania, three years after it was established set the scene for the entire event. Participants then discussed possible measures to improve compliance and demonstrate the value of the beneficial ownership register.

They agreed on the importance of promoting a more transparent and efficient system of accessing beneficial ownership data for key stakeholders, especially journalists, CSOs and law enforcement authorities. They also emphasised the need for interoperability of the Beneficial Ownership Registers with other public databases such as fiscal data, data on real estate, data on owned shares, assets declarations of public servants and politically exposed persons etc.

Event in the Netherlands - 1 July 2022

In the Netherlands, the local event took place on the 1 July 2022 in the Hague. It was organised as an in-person event open to the public by local partners Transparency International Netherlands, Tax Justice Netherlands and Open State Foundation. There was a valuable and continuous interaction with the audience of about 60 well-informed participants.

The event focused on beneficial ownership transparency (BOT) in the fight against illicit financial flows in the Netherlands. After setting the scene on the importance of BO transparency and the state of play in the EU member-states, participants discussed how investigations linked to tracing Russian assets make the BOT especially relevant in the current context and provide opportunities to bring visibility to this agenda. Participants also discussed how BO data can be managed more effectively in the Netherlands and argued for open access to structured and verified quality data.

The event ended with a productive discussion between a panel and experts in the audience, bringing forth suggestions on how best to improve BO transparency and the fight against illicit financial flows in both the Netherlands, as well as internationally.

Training in France - 29 and 30 June 2022

The training in France took place virtually on 29 and 30 June 2022, bringing together more than 20 participants from NGOs, the media, academia as well as representatives from the private sector actors and officials from the French Anticorruption Agency.

The first day introduced the topics of Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) and beneficial ownership first at the European level and then more specifically in France. They provided a comprehensive overview of the regulatory framework on BO registers and an explanation of key notions such as beneficial owner, legal owner or trusts for instance. The second day laid a greater focus on practice. After brief lectures on the verification and the analysis of beneficial and legal ownership data, trainees were divided into small groups of four to collect, analyse and verify the beneficial and legal ownership data of selected companies.

The discussion ended talking about existing networks, tools and opportunities for cooperation among civil society in the AML field. In France, a journalist participating in the training published an online paper about the training.

Event in Malta – 15 June 2022

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation in Malta held an in-person half-day conference titled “National Stakeholder Exchange in Beneficial Ownership Transparency”. The conference was organised as an off-the-record roundtable discussion gathering 20 stakeholders across civil society organisations, the private sector, regulatory authorities, the media and academia.

The purpose of the event was to bring together these key stakeholders to exchange knowledge of the risks related to the current beneficial ownership transparency framework, and to create synergies between different actors and their efforts in fighting money laundering and other financial crime.

Ten key action points emerged from the discussions and were sent to the participants following the event. They will also be shared with several ministries and the Office of the Prime Minister of Malta.

Event in Slovakia – 14 June 2022

Two men and a woman are sitting at a table during a meeting, the woman in the middle is talking.

From left to right: Jaroslav Macek, Judge District Court of Žilina; Mária Kolíková, Slovakian Minister of Justice; Ivan Holič, head of the legislative and legal department at the Office for Public Procurement. Photo: TI Slovakia/Michal Mazák.

Transparency International Slovakia organised a half-day in-person round table around the question, “To whom does our money flow?”

During the event, 21 experts reflected on key issues around using beneficial ownership data in Slovakia and designed recommendations to improve the country’s public register and the country’s approach to beneficial ownership transparency.

The outcomes of the discussions held during the event were shared and presented in a dedicated panel at an international conference TI Slovakia organised in partnership with TI Norway the following day. The purpose of this conference, to which the expert panel from the CSABOT event contributed, was to raise public awareness and media coverage of money laundering and beneficial ownership issues in the country.

Training in the Czech Republic 30 and 31 May

A two-day online training on beneficial ownership transparency was held in the Czech Republic on 30 and 31 May 2022. The training covered the topics of beneficial ownership (BO) regulatory frameworks on the national, European and the international level, the fundamentals of BO information, practical tools for accessing and analysing BO information, and cooperative network-building within the field. It took the format of online lectures, frequently presented by two speakers in tandem, as well as interactive sessions with prepared exercises. A particular focus was placed on the Czech BO definition, as compared to that of the EU, and the practical implications this has on BO identification, as well as the recently introduced Czech Beneficial Owner Register, including its strengths and weaknesses.

Event in Austria – 24 May 2022

Attac Austria, Arbeiterkammer Wien and the Vienna Institute for International Dialogue and Cooperation held an in-person half-day conference titled ‘Transparency as an efficient tool?’ on 24 May 2022 at the Chamber of Labour in Vienna.

Gathering 36 stakeholders from civil society, the media, the private and public sectors, academia and representatives of beneficial ownership registers, the event fostered an in-depth debate on the strengths and weaknesses of – and potential improvements to – the Austrian beneficial ownership register. The Q&A sessions and especially the fishbowl format allowed participants to engage in a dynamic discussion with the experts.

Event in Sweden – 24 May 2022

From left to right: Malin Crona, journalist; Magnus Karlsson, Financial Intelligence Unit of the Swedish Police; Louise Brown, Director of the FCD Advisory AML Team; and Ulrik Åshuvud, Chair of TI Sweden and panel moderator, during the CSABOT local event in Sweden, May 2022 (not pictured: Johanna Sahlman, Senior Legal Counsel at the Swedish Companies Registration Office, who participated digitally). Photo: TI Sweden

Led by Transparency International Sweden, the Swedish CSABOT local event gathered 45 stakeholders from the media, the public sector, the private sector, civil society and the financial sector, as well as a panel of experts. It was also recorded.

The recommendations that emerged from the experts’ discussion will be shared with relevant key stakeholders.

The discussions held during the event also contributed to subsequent discussions with the Secretariat of the UN Convention against Corruption and representatives of the Swedish Ministry of Justice at a country review meeting in Stockholm on 1 June.

Training in Germany - 16 and 17 May

The training in Germany took place virtually on 16-17 May 2022. 17 out of 20 invited participants took part of the training, including representatives from NGOs, journalists, academics and researchers. The training made both technical and practical tools available for trainees to assess the availability of and access to beneficial ownership (BO) information in EU member states and provided them with the technical skills to use and verify beneficial ownership data efficiently, engaging a critical mass of civil society actors and experts with the necessary skills to examine Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) related standards and regulations and propose further improvements and reforms in the area of beneficial ownership transparency.

Event in Denmark – 26 April 2022

Led by Transparency International Denmark, a closed in-person roundtable event was held on 26 April 2022 at the Copenhagen Business School.

Civil society actors, investigative journalists, representatives from the Danish Business Authority (the agency responsible for the national beneficial ownership register in the country, the ‘Central Virksomheds Register’ or CVR), the national Financial Intelligence Unit and the Danish Real Estate Association met to discuss beneficial ownership transparency. The diversity in participants enabled a fruitful discussion from both the perspective of implementers as well as that of a wide spectrum of beneficial ownership data users.

Discussions held during the event focused on the importance of beneficial ownership transparency in Denmark and how different stakeholders use the information provided by the Danish register to spot and investigate overall wrongdoing. Challenges linked to the use of this data were also raised, as well as opportunities to increase the effectiveness of the systems already in place to further the capacity of different stakeholders to help prevent, investigate and sanction money laundering and financial crime.