Vince Cable plans public register of company owners

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Media captionPlans to unmask secretive company owners have been announced by the government, as Joe Lynam reports

Companies will be forced to list their true owners on a public register in a bid to combat tax evasion and money-laundering, Vince Cable has said.

The business secretary said the list, which could be used by tax authorities, would tackle the "darker side of capitalism".

The plans follow concerns that opaque UK corporate structures can be used to channel or hide illicit funds.

Campaigners called it an "historic step" in the fight against corruption.

'Smoke and mirrors'

"For consumers, investors and the wider public to really trust a company they need to know who is really in charge," said Mr Cable.

"This is why I'm making sure we take tough action tackling the darker side of capitalism and the smoke and mirrors which have existed for too long.

"No longer will UK companies be able to use complex structures and trails of paperwork to hide information and keep the public in the dark."

The new rules, which need parliamentary approval, would force UK-registered firms to give details of anyone with an interest in more than 25% of its shares or voting rights.

These details, held by Companies House, would need to be updated every year.

'Historic step'

There are also plans to abolish so-called 'bearer shares', which can be transferred untraceably, without the need to register ownership.

And the government also wants to limit the use of corporate directors - where companies, rather than people, are directors of other companies.

A public register of company owners was originally pledged by the chancellor last year, as part of Britain's chairmanship of the G8.

George Osborne said it would help unmask the owners of 'shell' companies, where firms keep money offshore to avoid tax.

"This is an historic step in the fight against corruption and tax evasion," said David McNair, of Save the Children, reacting to Mr Cable's announcement on Monday.

"For too long, shell companies have hidden vast profits behind bogus owners, while tax dodging has cheated the world's poorest countries out of billions of pounds every year."

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