On Monday, OpenCorporates got an email from a Spanish journalist, asking to confirm that information we’d got on some long-dissolved UK companies was correct.
First of all, nice to meet you and congratulations (and thank you) for an incredible project as OpenCorporate is
In Spain, today, we are talking about a Spanish Minister who was involved in a offshore company in the 90s. When we looked for some more information in OpenCorporates we found two UK companies:
UK Lines Limited: https://opencorporates.com/companies/gb/01657954
Oceanic Lines Limited: https://opencorporates.com/companies/gb/03358201
However, we are not able to find this information in UK Register (Companies House)
We knew the information was correct – we had retrieved it as data from Companies House several years ago –and showed how they could check it using Companies House legacy website (companies that were dissolved some time ago aren’t currently on the nice new Companies House website).
Today, we saw just how big that story was, with the resignation of José Manuel Soria, the Minister for Trade & Industry.
The story in a nutshell (see more details here and here) is that Soria was discovered in the Panama Papers, but denied any connection to the Bahamas company in referenced in them. It turns out that a company of the same name, UK Lines Limited, had been incorporated in the UK, with officerships linked to him and his family. Further investigation into this company and another UK one, Oceanic Lines Limited, used company filings and shareholder documents to show that these were indeed connected with Soria and his family. Yesterday, newspaper El Mundo nailed the case showing Soria was also director of a Jersey company when he was already a politician.
There is a delicious irony in Soria being brought down in part by open data (obviously the main credit goes to the journalists who tracked the story down), given that the Spanish Company Register is locked behind a paywall – you can’t even search to see if a company exists without giving your credit card, and they have been adamant that they will not open up the register, still less make it available as open data (not surprisingly they score zero on the Open Company Data Index).
Of course, we’re not suggesting that they are hiding things, though the current embattled Prime Minister, as an ex-registrar, probably knows where some of the bodies are buried. But the lack of the company register information as open data is a huge barrier to the fight against corruption
It also underlines some of the many flaws behind the recent German plan for sharing of Beneficial Ownership data among 6 EU governments (of which Spain was one) – which of course would shield such information from the prying eyes of ordinary citizens, and prevent it being combined with other data. That’s why we need a public global beneficial ownership register, and that, perhaps, is precisely why Spanish politicians don’t want it.