​New EU law gives journalists access to secret company info

​New EU law gives journalists access to secret company info
Investigative journalists will be the beneficiaries of new EU legislation against money laundering, which will give them greater access to company data.

A fourth anti-money laundering directive has been agreed between EU member states and the European parliament Tuesday. The new measure requires EU countries to maintain a central register on the ultimate beneficial owners of companies and trusts, the Financial Times reports.

A number of campaign groups are concerned about trusts in particular, as they are more protected from public scrutiny.

From now on registered ownership details of specific companies will be open to journalists with ‘legitimate interests’ if they make a formal request.

National authorities and ‘obliged entities’ such as banks conducting due diligence will also have access to the data.

"For years, criminals in Europe have used the anonymity of offshore companies and accounts to obscure their financial dealings," said Krisjanis Kariņs, the Latvian MEP who initiated the negotiations on data disclosure.

Registering beneficial ownership will help to make offshore accounts transparent and contribute to the fight against money laundering and tax evasion.

However, the idea of secretive data disclosure is accompanied with hidden pitfalls. The information about trusts, entities often used to obscure beneficial ownership will only be available to the authorities.

Limiting access is likely to be problematic and expensive. Moreover, it could be used as an excuse to deny meaningful public access. The principle of defining who has a 'legitimate interest' still remains unclear. The compromise may end up replacing one law with many.

The initiative still needs formal approval from member states and the European parliament.

Campaigners are urging EU countries to go a step further and follow the example of the UK, France, Denmark and the Netherlands, which are planning to fully disclose data on the owners of companies to the public.