The U.S. Treasury Department has launched a new crackdown on money laundering and corruption, proposing a new rule that would require financial institutions to identify the true owners of companies opening accounts with them.
The agency also asked Congress to pass related beneficial ownership legislation that would require a new company to disclose the name of its owners at the time of its formation.
“Gaps remain in our laws that allow bad actors to deliberately use U.S. companies to hide money laundering, tax evasion, and other illicit financial activities,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) outlining the proposals.
The new regulation was originally proposed in 2014 but, as The Wall Street Journal reports, “gained urgency with last month’s release by news organizations of internal documents from a Panama law firm that showed wealthy people from around the world, including top officials of foreign governments, hiding money.”
It would require financial institutions to identify and verify the identity of any individual who owns 25% or more of a legal entity, and any individual who controls the legal entity.
The rule “advances the [Bank Secrecy Act] by making available to law enforcement valuable information needed to disrupt illicit finance networks,” Treasury said in a news release. “This will in turn increase financial transparency and augment the ability of financial institutions and law enforcement to identify the assets and accounts of criminals and national security threats.”
“This … is a critical step in our effort to prevent criminals from using companies to hide their identity and launder criminal proceeds,” Lew said.
The Justice Department also asked Congress to consider legislation that would make it easier to obtain evidence in corruption and money-laundering investigations and use that evidence in court.
The “Panama papers” information “makes clear that more needs to be done, and we’re going to look for administrative means to do that,” Deputy National Security Adviser Wally Adeyemo told reporters.