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Corruption: Overseas Use of UK Companies

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 30 November 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures are in place to prevent United Kingdom shell companies being used to conceal the facilitating of bribery and corruption overseas. [HL59]

The Government are fully committed to tackling all offences committed by individuals and all forms of business organisation.

The UK maintains an effective framework for business which balances the need to encourage enterprise and deter corruption, fraud and other types of misconduct. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 gives UK courts jurisdiction over corruption offences committed wholly overseas by UK nationals and by bodies incorporated under UK law. The Government recently provided resources for a new unit in the City of London Police Service to investigate allegations of foreign bribery. This will complement the work of the Serious Fraud Office, deter corruption and help bring prosecutions against corrupt individuals and companies.

In addition, the Government will shortly be introducing a range of new measures, among which are:

the third EU money laundering directive; implementation in the UK will require that all sectors under money laundering regulations must identify the beneficial owners of their customer if the customer is a legal entity or legal person. It will also require that all trust and company service providers are fit and proper persons and that these businesses are not run for criminal purposes. Further, it explicitly prevents banks and financial institutions doing transactions with banks with no physical presence and which are unaffiliated with a regulated financial group;

the creation by DfID of a new £100 million Governance and Transparency Fund, designed to help citizens hold their governments to account;

the provision of specialist resources to developing countries to investigate and prosecute corruption cases; and

the provision of technical assistance to establish effective anti-corruption practices under the UN Convention against Corruption.

Company law and its related enforcement regime tackles financial crime in a number of ways, particularly through requirements to publish accounts and powers to wind up companies and disqualify directors. The new Companies Act 2006 imposes important obligations on UK companies and their directors to behave responsibly. All directors are under a duty to act with appropriate care, skill and diligence. This applies to directors of a UK parent company who act as shareholder of an overseas subsidiary. In addition, the Act requires that at least one director of a company must be a natural person.