Discreetly, France has just taken a big step back in terms of financial transparency. Without any official announcement, the French register of beneficial owners of companies was suspended on Sunday 1eh January, as mentioned The world.
This platform, which opened in April 2021, allowed any citizen to easily know the identity of the owners of French companies. This tool, long called for by civil society organizations, was widely regarded as a major advance in financial transparency and the fight against fraud and money laundering. In the absence of information about the real owners, criminals or sanctioned persons can actually hide behind nominees or front companies more easily.
This data suddenly disappeared from the register in the early hours of 2023. When questioned, the office of Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire returns responsibility to the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI), which ensures the technical management of the register: “There was neither instruction nor political validation from the ministry. »
INPI pleads the technical error and ensures that the data “will be put back online as soon as technically possible”. A backpedal from a first message sent to World on January 4, when INPI simply explained that the beneficial owners’ data would no longer be “no longer published in open data” because of“a decision of the European Court of Justice”. A reference to the judgment of 22 November 2022 from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which declared public access to the European registers of beneficial owners illegal in respect of privacy.
This decision had already prompted eight European countries to abruptly suspend access to their registries (Netherlands, Ireland, Malta, Cyprus, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Luxembourg). A crushing blow for many civil society actors who use this data to document economic crime.
A political decision
For a few weeks, the Ministry of Economy had been in discussion with INPI to assess the legal consequences of the EU Court’s judgment. “The moth poison has not yet been pronouncedassures a source in Bruno Le Maire’s cabinet. It will be over the next few days and we will explain. »
Deleting access to this register “is illegal under French law”, explains Vincent Couronne, from the collective Les Surligneurs
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