Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

September 5, 2013

Time to end the dangerous shell game

Iran heads the list of countries the United States and other nations have targeted for sanctions because of its believed nuclear weapons goal and its support of terrorist groups.

There are few governments that elicit more concern among Americans than the one in Tehran.

Certainly no law-biding U.S. citizen or business would provide goods or services directly to Iran or any organization that funnels money to that regime. In fact, it is illegal to do so. But that is exactly what has happened and likely is still happening because it is perfectly legal in the U.S. to set up anonymous shell corporations--secretive entities often exploited by criminals to move dirty money

Before 2009, companies renting office space in a skyscraper at 650 Fifth Avenue in New York were unknowingly sending money to the Iranian government. If you were shopping in the retail businesses in that building, you were unwittingly financing the Iranian government.

You wouldn’t have known that you possibly were contributing to Iran’s nuclear weapons program because an anonymous shell company was set up to disguise that Bank Melli co-owned the building and collected the rent, according to court documents. The Iranian government owns and controls Bank Melli.

Federal agencies discovered the corporate shell game and the matter is now in the courts. Fortunately that particular revenue stream to Iran has stopped.

But how many other shell companies are used to financially benefit enemy states because U.S. state laws don’t require the identity of owners to be disclosed? How many are used by drug traffickers, terrorist cells, tax cheats, pimps, arms traders, fraudsters or other criminals to further illegal activity? How many American dollars are secretly sent to groups most of us would never support?

Because of legalized corporate secrecy, we don’t know the answers to these questions.

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