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The existence of a global network of sham company directors, most of them British, can be revealed today.

The UK government claims such abuses were stamped out long ago, but a worldwide joint investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Guardian, and BBC’s Panorama, has uncovered a booming offshore industry that leaves the way open both for tax avoidance and the concealment of assets.

This is the first installment of ICIJ’s worldwide research effort which will identify, country-by-country, thousands of the true owners of offshore companies.

One part of our research identified more than 19,000 companies who use a group of some 20 so-called nominee directors. The nominees play a key role in keeping hundreds of thousands of commercial transactions secret. They do so by selling their names for use on official company documents, whilst giving addresses in obscure locations all over the world.

Hiding behind nominee fronts are the real owners. They are of widely varying types, ranging from Russian oligarchs to perfectly legal but discreet speculators in the British property market. Their only common factor: the wish for secrecy.

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