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Shopping for Anonymous Shell Companies: An Audit Study of Anonymity and Crime in the International Financial System

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  • J. C. Sharman

Abstract

The last few years have seen an international campaign to ensure that the world's financial and banking systems are "transparent," meaning that every actor and transaction within the system can be traced to a discrete, identifiable individual. I present an audit study of compliance with the prohibitions on anonymous shell companies. In particular, I describe my attempts to found anonymous corporate vehicles without proof of identity and then to establish corporate bank accounts for these vehicles. (Transactions processed through the corporate account of such a "shell company" become effectively untraceable—and thus very useful for those looking to hide criminal profits, pay or receive bribes, finance terrorists, or escape tax obligations.) I solicited offers of anonymous corporate vehicles from 54 different corporate service providers in 22 different countries, and collated the responses to determine whether the existing legal and regulatory prohibitions on anonymous corporate vehicles actually work in practice. To foreshadow the results, it seems that small island offshore centers may have standards for corporate transparency and disclosure that are higher than major OECD economies like the United States and the United Kingdom.

Suggested Citation

  • J. C. Sharman, 2010. "Shopping for Anonymous Shell Companies: An Audit Study of Anonymity and Crime in the International Financial System," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(4), pages 127-140, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:24:y:2010:i:4:p:127-40 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.24.4.127
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. J.C. Sharman, 2008. "Regional Deals and the Global Imperative: The External Dimension of the European Union Savings Tax Directive," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46, pages 1049-1069, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lukas Menkhoff & Jakob Miethe, 2017. "Dirty Money Coming Home: Capital Flows into and out of Tax Havens," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1711, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    2. Guttorm Schjelderup, 2016. "Secrecy jurisdictions," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, pages 168-189.
    3. Weichenrieder, Alfons J., 2016. "Panama & Co: Implikationen für die Steuerpolitik," SAFE Policy Letters 52, Goethe University Frankfurt, Research Center SAFE - Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe.
    4. Shafik Hebous, 2014. "Money at the Docks of Tax Havens: A Guide," FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 70(3), pages 458-485, September.
    5. Hebous, Shafik & Lipatov, Vilen, 2014. "A journey from a corruption port to a tax haven," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, pages 739-754.
    6. Weichenrieder, Alfons J. & Xu, Fangying, 2015. "Are tax havens good? Implications of the crackdown on secrecy," SAFE Working Paper Series 111, Research Center SAFE - Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe, Goethe University Frankfurt.
    7. Guerino Ardizzi & Carmelo Petraglia & Massimiliano Piacenza & Friedrich Schneider & Gilberto Turati, 2013. "Money Laundering as a Financial Sector Crime. A New Approach to Measurement, with an Application to Italy," Working papers 018, Department of Economics and Statistics (Dipartimento di Scienze Economico-Sociali e Matematico-Statistiche), University of Torino.
    8. Hebous, Shafik & Lipatov, Vilen, 2014. "A journey from a corruption port to a tax haven," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, pages 739-754.
    9. Butkiewicz, James L. & Gordon, Leo-Rey C., 2013. "The Economic Growth Effect of Offshore Banking in Host Territories: Evidence from the Caribbean," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 165-179.
    10. Leonce Ndikumana, 2014. "International Tax Cooperation and Implications of Globalization," CDP Background Papers 024, United Nations, Department of Economics and Social Affairs.
    11. Miethe, Jakob & Menkhoff, Lukas, 2017. "Dirty money coming home: Capital flows into and out of tax havens," Annual Conference 2017 (Vienna): Alternative Structures for Money and Banking 168082, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    12. Patrice Pieretti & Jacques-François Thisse & Skerdilajda Zanaj, 2014. "Offshore financial centers and bank secrecy," CREA Discussion Paper Series 14-02, Center for Research in Economic Analysis, University of Luxembourg.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages
    • G28 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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