AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

With rules like these, who needs an offshore shell company?

The recent leak of the Panama Papers has shown how the super wealthy from across the globe do business in secret by setting up off-shore companies - a process that can require hiring pricey overseas lawyers.

No need to do that in Georgia. A $100 registration fee to the Secretary of State's office can get you a limited liability company, a type of business entity that does not require that owners disclose a responsible party such as a CEO, partner or owner.

There's no ID needed, and no penalty for submitting incorrect or misleading information about your LLC. In Atlanta, business owners have been using them to hide for years. Sunday's AJC story shows how difficult it is to track one of the businesses

down, and what this corporate secrecy means to the neighborhoods they leave to deal with the hazards they leave behind.

Think hookers, johns, discarded condoms and other mayhem. The corporation highlighted in the story, Ilimite LLC, had this address for its registered agent:

Physical Address: 1, Fulton, 1, GA, 1, USA

On a local level, shadowy LLCs can ruin a neighborhood and foster crime. On a national level, the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at the U.S. Treasury Department has found that LLCs can hide notorious con artists and scammers. Critics also worry that lax corporate ownership disclosure regulations in the U.S. can hide terrorist operations. Since 2008, federal lawmakers have introduced proposals to require disclosure of what's called "beneficial ownership" of corporations, to no avail.

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