At G8, U.S. pledges to keep pressing for shell company laws

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland Tue Jun 18, 2013 9:38am EDT

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - The United States pledged on Tuesday to keep on pressing for legislation to cut down on the criminal use of shell companies but did not take firmer action for now as part of a Group of Eight push to tighten rules on tax evasion and money laundering.

A frequent critic of tax havens, the United States has come under fire from campaigners for the low transparency requirements around ownership of corporate entities registered in some U.S. states such as Delaware.

The White House is keen to tackle such criticism and said it would push U.S. states to create registers of the true ownership of American companies.

"The U.S. will continue to forcefully advocate for comprehensive legislation to require the disclosure of beneficial ownership information, including a requirement to identify and verify beneficial ownership information at the time a company is formed," it said in a statement.

Britain - which hosted a G8 summit on Monday and Tuesday - said on Saturday it would introduce new domestic rules to combat tax evasion, by forcing shadowy shell companies to throw off their cloak of anonymity and reveal who really runs them.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has sought to clamp down on secret flows of money, making it a centerpiece of his presidency of the G8 this year.

Gavin Hayman, director of campaigns at anti-corruption group Global Witness, said the U.S. announcement fell short of Britain's pledge although some of the details on the possible definition of beneficial ownership looked stronger than previous proposals by Washington.

"The credibility of this depends on the ability of the White House to advance legislation," said Hayman said. "The U.S. has promised this kind of thing before ... and not a lot happened."

Under the new British rules, companies will be required to obtain and hold information on their ownership and control which will then be held in a central registry, available to police and revenue agencies.

The White House also pledged to make U.S. financial institutions conduct more checks on their customers, including a rule requiring banks to identify the beneficial owners of legal entity customers.

"This proposed rule would require that financial institutions understand who their customers actually are and provide important information and resources for law enforcement and tax authorities," the statement said.

(Editing by William Schomberg)

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