The companies we keep

The companies we keep

Global Witness is an anti-corruption group that campaigns to end the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. So how could we help?

HAL24K believes data and technology can make the world a better place, as does DataKind UK, a charitable organization which brings together highly skilled volunteers able to take on the huge challenge Global Witness set out - who are the true, or ‘beneficial’ owners of UK registered companies?

One of HAL24K’s data scientists, Dr Adam Hill, volunteered his time to take on the challenge. With 4.1 million active UK-registered companies, 4 million individual persons of significant control, and 40 million recorded directors and officers of the companies, it would take a team of data scientists to lead the investigation.

Adam worked for nine months and was responsible for constructing the underlying graph database model, as well as mapping all the interconnected relationships that linked companies and people. This enabled the entire team to query and analyze the data in a completely different way, revealing some unusual patterns.

The work done uncovered thousands of companies filing highly suspicious entries or not complying with the rules. Some of the key findings are:

  • More than 10,000 companies declare a foreign company as their beneficial owner – of these 72% are linked to a secrecy jurisdiction or tax haven.

  • More than 9,000 companies are controlled by beneficial owners who control over 100 companies, 5 beneficial owners control more than 6,000 companies. This prompts questions about whether some are covers put there by the actual owners.

  • 328 companies are part of circular ownership structures, where they appear to control themselves.

  • 345 companies have a beneficial owner who is a disqualified director.

  • 390 companies have company officers or beneficial owners who are politicians elected to national legislatures, either in the UK or in another country.

  • 7,848 companies share a beneficial owner, officer or registered postcode with a company suspected of having been involved in money laundering.

  • 4,000 beneficial owners are listed under the age of 2, including one who has yet to be born.

The project has changed the way that Global Witness handles data and data analysis in their day-to-day work. The results have been used in debates in the UK Houses of Parliament as evidence of the need to make changes to anti-money laundering legislation.

There is momentum building internationally to require companies to disclose their beneficial, or true, owners in a publicly available register. Thanks to Adam’s hard work, DataKind UK and Global Witness, it is clear action can be taken to end the corrosive impact of money laundering through secret companies.

Behind all the data science solutions HAL24K builds to make infrastructure smarter is the underlying belief that we can leverage data and technology to make the world a better place.

For more information read the full Global Witness report here.