Moody’s Analytics has found 21 million “red flags” associated with shell companies that could be used to enable financial crimes, from ancient directors to dubious addresses.
For instance, more than 2,200 companies have directors aged 123 years and above, despite the fact that the oldest known human lived to 122, said Richard Graham, a director at Moody’s Analytics, in research published Monday. One listed director — at 942 years old — would have been born in the 11th century.
Atypical directorship is just one of seven key behaviors highlighted in the research, including mass registration, dormancy and circular ownership. While new regulations across the world are looking to improve transparency at shell companies, there is still some way to go, with $1.6 trillion laundered annually, according to data from Moody’s Analytics.
“Organizations today face mounting complexity in understanding true ownership structures and detecting risky corporate relationships,” said Ted Datta, head of the financial crime compliance practice for Europe, Africa and Americas at Moody’s Analytics. “By detecting these discrepancies, we can equip investigators and analysts with the tools to better investigate fraud.”
Findings from its report included a China-based textile and clothing manufacturer that reported over $2 billion revenues in 2019, despite having only one employee. There’s also thousands of examples of directors below the age of five, and 22,000 entities with a registered address at Egypt’s pyramids. Meanwhile, one individual held 5,751 roles at 2,883 different entities.
The study looked at some 472 million companies in November. The country with the highest number of shell company risks was the UK, with almost 5 million flags. Companies registered in the US had the most flags related to financial anomalies, at over 1.25 million. Panama is also a hotspot, with 47% of companies in the jurisdiction raising alarm, though the number of anonymous registrations dropped by half following the Panama Papers investigations.
While shell companies might have legitimate purposes, their opaqueness is often use to hide criminal financial activity, Moody’s Analytics said. Other red governance flags included jurisdictional risk, outlier ultimate beneficial ownership and financial anomalies, it said.