Thanks to a massive leak, The Panama Papersblew the lid off of fiscal paradises worldwide. “The leaked data covers nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015. It allows a never-before-seen view inside the offshore world — providing a day-to-day, decade-by-decade look at how dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues. Most of the services the offshore industry provides are legal if used by the law abiding. But the documents show that banks, law firms and other offshore players have often failed to follow legal requirements that they make sure their clients are not involved in criminal enterprises, tax dodging or political corruption. In some instances, the files show, offshore middlemen have protected themselves and their clients by concealing suspect transactions or manipulating official records.”

Largely thanks to The Panama Papers, we better understand corporate ownership, beneficial owners, who benefits, and how.That said, the 214,488 shell companies and other offshore entities named in the leaks are but a fraction of corporations worldwide. A problem of this size poses enormous challenges for identifying companies, let alone their owners. Though theU.S. Securities and Exchange Commissionidentifies beneficial owners as those investors who own 5% or more of a company, it misses the larger picture: who are the physical individuals — the beneficial owners — that own any given company?

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