Early impacts of public beneficial ownership registers: United Kingdom


Economic crime is a large-scale problem around the world, particularly in financial centres such as the UK. A briefing for the UK Parliament described economic crime in the UK as “a multi-billion pound problem”.[1] In 2013, the UK became the first country in the world to commit to making beneficial ownership (BO) information transparent, as a central part of a suite of measures to tackle economic crime and corruption that occurred through the misuse of companies.[2] In 2016, the UK launched the People with Significant Control (PSC) register,[3] making it the first country in the G20 to create a public register of beneficial owners of UK companies.[4] The register is proving valuable in the fight against the misuse of UK legal entities. However, there has been criticism of the reliability and accuracy of the data in the register. In response, the UK government has announced plans to introduce reforms to the PSC register that will improve data reliability by – amongst other things – ensuring mandatory identity verification.[5] If implemented in full, these reforms would substantially increase the quality of data in the PSC register.

Register of People with Significant Control

UK Register of People with Significant Control
Established 2016
Scope Individuals who have significant
control over UK companies, UK
Societas,[a] limited liability partnerships
(LLPs), and eligible Scottish partnerships,
including Scottish limited
partnerships (SLPs) and Scottish
qualifying partnerships.
Beneficial owners registered 8,686,901
Companies registered 7,276,356
Data on the global

As of 13 April 2021. Accessible via: https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk

The only reason that we are able to bring this story to the general public is because the UK operates a fully open, free to access, corporate and beneficial ownership registry.

Graham Barrow, financial crimes investigator and Director of the Dark Money Files podcast, discussing British shell company involvement in the Beirut blast


[a] A UK Societas is a European public limited liability company (Societas Europaea) converted after the end of the Brexit transition.

[b] Please listen to the Dark Money Files podcast for the full story: Graham Barrow and Ray Blake, “British Shells and the Beirut Blast”, The Dark Money Files podcast, 17 January 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/british-shells-and-the-beirut-blast/id1448635132?i=1000505495826.


[1] O. Bennett, “Economic Crime in the UK: A Multi-Billion Pound Problem”, House of Commons Library, 2020 https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9013/CBP-9013.pdf.

[2] “The Register of People with Significant Control (PSC Register): Understanding the New Requirements, Recording Control on the PSC Register and Protecting People at Serious Risk of Harm”, Department for Business Innovation and Skills, October 2014, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/395478/bis-14-1145-the-register-of-people-with-significant-control-psc-register-register-final-1.pdf; Rosie Sharpe, “Eight reasons why everybody needs to be able to see company ownership information (not just the police)”, Global Witness, 30 June, 2016, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/eight-reasons-why-we-all-need-be-able-see-beneficial-ownership-information-rather-just-police/; “PM speech at Open Government Partnership 2013”, GOV.UK, 6 November 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-at-open-government-partnership-2013.

[3] “Companies House service”, Companies House, n.d., https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/.

[4] “UK PSC Register”, Open Ownership, n.d., https://register.openownership.org/data_sources/uk-psc-register; Nienke Palstra, “10 lessons from the UK’s public register of the real owners of companies”, Global Witness, 23 October 2017, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/10-lessons-uks-public-register-real-owners-companies/; Alan Duncan, “Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords] debate”, UK Parliament, 20 February 2018, https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-02-20/debates/4203FE32-0E68-46CD-BAAF-6F65D05050A2/SanctionsAndAnti-MoneyLaunderingBill(Lords)#contribution-5A46DAEC-CE87-44E8-A421-8B89533BA050.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Beneficial Ownership Transparency, milestones on the road to 2020: Highlights from EITI Countries”, Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), 2020, https://eiti.org/files/documents/eiti_botmilestones_8.pdf.

[7] “Statutory guidance: Our public task, copyright and Crown copyright”, GOV.UK, 9 August 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/companies-house-accreditation-to-information-fair-traders-scheme/public-task-copyright-and-crown-copyright.

[8] “The UK’s performance against the Open Ownership Principles”, Open Ownership, n.d., 8, https://www.openownership.org/uploads/Rapid%20assessment%20of%20UK%20performance%20against%20the%20OO%20Principles%20.pdf.

[9] “Press release: Reforms to Companies House to clamp down on fraud and give businesses greater confidence in transactions”, GOV.UK, 18 September 2020,https://www.gov.uk/government/news/reforms-to-companies-house-to-clamp-down-on-fraud-and-give-businesses-greater-confidence-in-transactions.

[10] Please see: “Open Ownership Register”, Open Ownership, n.d., https://register.openownership.org/.

[11] “Corporate Transparency and Register Reform: Government response to the consultation on options to enhance the role of Companies House and increase the transparency of UK corporate entities”, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 18 September 2020, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/925059/corporate-transparency-register-reform-government-response.pdf.

[12] “The companies we keep: What the UK’s open data register actually tells us about company ownership”, Global Witness, n.d., https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/corruption-and-money-laundering/anonymous-company-owners/companies-we-keep/.

[13] “Anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing measures: United Kingdom Mutual Evaluation Report”, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), December 2018, 157, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/media/fatf/documents/reports/mer4/MER-United-Kingdom-2018.pdf.

[14] “Corporate Transparency and Register Reform: Consultation on options to enhance the role of Companies House and increase the transparency of UK corporate entities”, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, May 2019, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/819994/Corporate_transparency_and_register_reform.pdf; See OO’s consultation response: “Corporate transparency and register reform – consultation response”, Open Ownership, n.d., https://www.openownership.org/uploads/oo-response-to-corporate-transparency-and-register-reform-consultation.pdf.

[15] “Press release: Reforms to Companies House to clamp down on fraud and give businesses greater confidence in transactions”, GOV.UK, 18 September 2020, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/reforms-to-companies-house-to-clamp-down-on-fraud-and-give-businesses-greater-confidence-in-transactions.

[16] “Improving the business environment in Nigeria through transparency in the management of beneficial ownership: A policy brief”, Federal Ministry of Justice of Nigeria (FMOJ) and International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) Global, February 2017, https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/e0b6c17a/files/uploaded/Policy%20Brief%20on%20Beneficial%20Ownership%20FMOJ%20and%20IBLF%20Global%20Final.pdf.

[17] “Anti-corruption Summit London 2016 – Communiqué”, GOV.UK, 12 May 2016, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/522791/FINAL_-_AC_Summit_Communique_-_May_2016.pdf; TI, “London Summit Commitment Database Assessment”, 2016, https://www.transparency.org/files/content/feature/2016_LondonSummitCommitmentDatabaseAssessment.xlsx.

[18] “The Beneficial Ownership Leadership Group”, Open Ownership, n.d., https://www.openownership.org/what-we-do/the-beneficial-ownership-leadership-group/.

[19] Associated Press, “‘Not Like Every Time:’ Beirut Blast Victims Want the Truth”, Voices of America (VOA), 6 February 2021, https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/not-every-time-beirut-blast-victims-want-truth.

[20] “Beirut Explosion: What We Know So Far”, BBC, 11 August 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53668493.

[21] Felipe Arizon, “The Arrest News: 11”, Shiparrested.com, October 2015, https://shiparrested.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/The-Arrest-News-11th-issue.pdf.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Martin Chulov, “Businessmen with ties to Assad linked to Beirut port blast cargo”,The Guardian, 15 January 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/15/businessmen-with-ties-to-assad-linked-to-beirut-port-blast-cargo.

[24] “Savaro Limited”, Open Ownership Register, n.d. https://register.openownership.org/entities/59b9646967e4ebf34020086d.

[25] “Marina Psyllou”, Open Ownership Register, n.d., https://register.openownership.org/entities/59b9646967e4ebf34020088e.

[26] Elnur Mammadov, “Janik alone laundered the entire budget of Azerbaijan”, Haqqin.az, 20 September 2017, https://haqqin.az/oldage/111159; “Enhancing Government Effectiveness and Transparency: The Fight Against Corruption”, World Bank, September 2020, 254, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/34533/Enhancing-Government-Effectiveness-and-Transparency-The-Fight-Against-Corruption.pdf.

[27] Elnur Mammadov, “Janik alone laundered the entire budget of Azerbaijan”, Haqqin.az, 20 September 2017, https://haqqin.az/oldage/111159.

[28] Isabella Perrin, “Zamira Hajiyeva: Mcmafia Ascot golf club owner spends 16 million in Harrods”, Bracknell News, 28 May 2019, https://www.bracknellnews.co.uk/news/17669393.zamira-hajiyeva-mcmafia-ascot-golf-club-owner-spends-16-million-harrods/.

[29] “MRGC 2013 Ltd”, Companies House, n.d., https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/08633094/persons-with-significant-control.

[30] Shilpa Arora and Steve Smith,Arora, S., et al. (2020), “Unexplained Wealth Orders: Looking Beyond the Headlines”, Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS), June 2020, available at http://files.acams.org/pdfs/2020/UWO-White-Paper.pdf.

[31] “Zamira Hajiyeva: Supreme Court rejects appeal to overturn ‘McMafia’ unexplained wealth order”, Sky News, 21 December 2020,https://news.sky.com/story/zamira-hajiyeva-supreme-court-rejects-appeal-to-overturn-mcmafia-unexplained-wealth-order-12169324.

[32] Nicholas Holland, “Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Overturn UK’s First Unexplained Wealth Order”, The National Law Review, XI: 18, 18 January 2021, https://www.natlawreview.com/article/supreme-court-rejects-appeal-to-overturn-uk-s-first-unexplained-wealth-order.

[33] Rupert Neate “‘McMafia’ banker’s wife will have £22m seized unless she reveals source of wealth”, The Guardian, 21 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/dec/21/mcmafia-banker-wife-seize-source-wealth-supreme-court-harrods.

[34] Dominic Kavakeb, “UK Companies at the heart of $2.9 billion money-laundering circle”, TI, 4 September 2017, https://www.transparency.org.uk/uk-companies-heart-29-billion-money-laundering-circle; Gemma Cartin, “Offshore in the UK: Analysing the use of Scottish Limited Partnerships in corruption and money laundering”, TI, June 2017, https://www.transparency.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/publications/Offshore_In_The_UK_TIUK_June_2017.pdf.

[35] David Leask and Richard Smith, “Scots shell companies used to launder £4 billion out of Russia”, The Herald, 27 March 2017, https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15183346.scots-shell-companies-used-to-launder-4-billion-out-of-russia/.

[36] Jaccy Gascoyne, “The Use of Scottish Limited Partnerships in Money laundering Schemes”, MLROs.com, n.d., https://mlros.com/the-use-of-scottish-limited-partnerships-in-money-laundering-schemes/.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Gemma Cartin, “Offshore in the UK: Analysing the use of Scottish Limited Partnerships in corruption and money laundering”, TI, June 2017, 6, https://www.transparency.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/publications/Offshore_In_The_UK_TIUK_June_2017.pdf.

[39] Ibid, 4.

[40] “Hard Data on Lessons Learned from the UK Beneficial Ownership Register”, Global Witness, 30 May 2019, https://www.globalwitness.org/documents/19733/GW.Fact_Sheet_on_UK_Register_Data_for_US.May302019_w0hQoid.pdf.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Nienke Palstra, “Three ways the UK’s register of the real owners of companies is already proving its worth”, Global Witness, 24 July 2018, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/three-ways-uks-register-real-owners-companies-already-proving-its-worth/.

[43] “The UK’s performance against the Open Ownership Principles”, Open Ownership, n.d., https://www.openownership.org/uploads/Rapid%20assessment%20of%20UK%20performance%20against%20the%20OO%20Principles%20.pdf.

[44] Naomi Hirst, “Cleaning up closer to home – why the Crown Dependencies need to go public”, , Global Witness, 4 December 2018, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/cleaning-up-closer-to-home-why-the-crown-dependencies-need-to-go-public/.

[45] “New Support for UK Overseas Territories to Publish Beneficial Ownership Data”, Open Ownership, November 2020, https://www.openownership.org/news/new-support-for-uk-overseas-territories-to-publish-beneficial-ownership-data/.

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