British Prime Minister David Cameron is leading a global effort to create public registers of company ownership that would make it harder to launder the proceeds of corruption.
Cameron announced the steps at a global anti-corruption summit he is hosting, Reuters reports.
But critics said the registers might have no meaningful impact unless tax havens, many ultimately controlled by Britain, also end secrecy.
The build-up to the London event was marred by Cameron being caught on camera describing Nigeria and Afghanistan, which are both taking part, as “fantastically corrupt” but he later said that the leaders of both countries were tackling the problem.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said he had been shocked by the degree to which he found corruption “pandemic” around the world.
“It is a contributor to terrorism in many different ways and the extremism that we see in the world today comes to no small degree from the utter exasperation that people have with the sense that the system is rigged,” Kerry said.
“We see this anger manifesting itself in different forms in elections around the world, including ours,” he said, alluding to the unexpected success of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders in the US presidential primaries.
Britain, France, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Afghanistan pledged to launch public registers of true company ownership while Australia, New Zealand, Jordan, Indonesia, Ireland and Georgia announced initial steps towards similar arrangements.
Kerry said the United States has announced measures to improve transparency on business ownership.
The countries taking part in the summit issued a 34-point communique outlining pledges to tackle issues ranging from doping and match-fixing in sports to tax evasion and bribery.
Under the new rules announced by Cameron, foreign companies that own a property in Britain or want to buy one or to bid for a central government contract will have to join the register.
The aim is to expose those who hide behind obscure shell companies to own properties, a particularly acute problem in London which has been hit by repeated scandals involving luxury homes owned by corrupt foreign politicians and businesspeople.
Critics said real progress on money-laundering and tax evasion would only come if tax havens were also compelled to open up about who owns offshore-registered companies.
“Tax dodgers can still sleep easily tonight,” said Susanna Ruiz, tax expert at charity Oxfam.
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