#29leaks: someone leaked 15 years' worth of data from London's most notorious shell-company factory

By Cory Doctorow

Formations House is a London "financial services" firm that has been implicated in some of the world's most notorious money-laundering and fraud schemes, a company that has formed more than 400,000 companies, trusts and partnerships for its customers, many of them prefabricated, anonymous "shelf companies" that have been used to disguise the parties behind breathtaking frauds, some perpetrated by corrupt heads of state.

A consortium of journalists and journalistic organizations is in receipt of 15 years' worth of data from Formations House (courtesy of the activist group Distributed Denial of Secrets), totalling 85gb (mailboxes of "specific employees of interest"; SQL table for every email received by the firm; faxes; phone messages; and miscellanea). They've formed a coalition with other news orgs, including Propublica, CNN, The Daily Beast, and the Columbia Review of Journalism, to sort through the leaks and report out the stories they find there. They've also offered to search their database on behalf of nonaffiliated journalists and anti-corruption officials who want a peek.

It's hard to overstate how notorious and suspicious the firm is: for one thing, one of its directors was convicted of using an anonymous Formations House shell company to launder proceeds from a Spanish Prisoner fraud (!!). Formations House companies were also the vehicle of choice for corrupt Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych, who used them in many ways, including to assume ownership of vast state assets that he'd stolen.

The consortium hopes that their reporting will end up with the return of vast sums stolen from poor nations. They writes, "If even one of the '400,000 companies, partnerships, and trusts' Formations notes having set up for its clients since the turn of the century are discovered to serve a similar function, and the stolen funds returned to the developing the nation that can scarce afford to have lost them, this project will have served its purpose."

As it happens, we can expect more. In the 48 hours since we began recruiting press for early access, we’ve brought on journalists from outlets like ProPublica, CNN, The Daily Beast, and the Columbia Review of Journalism, with further partnerships arranged in principle with CounterPunch and Investigative Journal. Over time, we’ll be expanding access to the entire cache on the part of both traditional outlets and experiment research collectives of the sort Emma Best and I have been overseeing in similar contexts for nearly a decade, along with many of our volunteers. To ensure the greatest yield and accommodate the widest possible access, we’ll also be allowing journalists and anti-corruption officials who may be precluded from engaging with such leaks directly to instead submit names and other keywords to be searched by our team, with any responsive documents to be securely relayed back to the inquirer.

Other special requests, along with press inquiries/requests for access and questions about volunteering for this and similar projects, should reach out to Distributed Denial of Secrets via their contact page.

This London Firm Helps the Wealthy Hide Assets – or Steal Them. Luckily We Have 15 Years of Their Client Communications. [Barrett Brown/Counterpunch]

(via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: kloniwotski, CC BY-SA)