Opaque ownership

by Craig J. Albert

Just a quick note inspired by today's NYT article on the way in which Iran attempts to evade the US embargo by changing the ownership of its ships. These subterfuges are feasible because the concept of anonymous ownership of companies is so firmly entrenched in world culture. If share ownership were open to public inspection up and down the chain until a natural person or a government were reached, then real ownership interests could easily be monitored. In this particular article, you'll see the names of some of the usual suspects -- Malta, Isle of Man, Hong Kong -- that are well-known to lawyers, financiers and other ne'er-do-wells as particularly opaque places to hide assets. There always seems to be a government willing to hide a tax cheat or two, or an arms dealer who likes to keep a low profile.

Separately, on the issue of identifying and tracking big oceangoing vessels, one would think that a good international rule might be that every ship over a certain size needs to have a continuously functioning GPS transmitter with a unique ID, stored in a tamper-evident sealed container, and that no ship that lacks such a transmitter can enter a port.