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Follow the money!

How do you fight drug trafficking, illegal arms trading and spyware? Company registers, which GIZ has introduced in Kenya and the Balkans.

Gangs and financial crime – the job of Vlado Apostolov. The journalist from North Macedonia specialises in the subject. He uncovers front companies, identifies shadowy figures behind them – and reveals criminal networks which hide their activities behind letterbox companies. To do this he uses tools that the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH helped develop.

GIZ assists countries worldwide to set up company registers to combat corruption and other crimes. The national registers show the beneficial owners, the people who actually control the associated financial flows. Companies are obliged by statute to supply this information. ‘The register helps us understand who’s behind specific companies,’ Apostolov says. Authorised individuals, such as journalists, can submit enquiries. This can reveal who benefits at the end of a chain of payments, which makes it possible to discover and track illicit financial flows. GIZ assists here by training journalists to research the databases.

More transparency, less money laundering

Some of the cases where the journalist has used the register read like a detective novel. For example, he helped show how criminal networks are profiting from legal cannabis growing in North Macedonia, including links with war criminals and corruption on a grand scale. Another investigation showed how a family clan from that country was behind dubious deals in illegal spyware. However, research into corruption is just the first step. Mostly, it takes years until a scandal is prosecuted – sometimes even decades.

Even so, Shighadi Mwakio is convinced that the registers will achieve their goal in the long run, with less money laundering, which means less capital for bands of criminals. The Kenyan is responsible in her country’s justice ministry for the company register and its development. Her slogan is ‘Follow the money!’ Since Kenya introduced the system, Mwakio has seen a clear impact – ‘Many companies are making greater efforts to comply with the law.’

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