‘Open company data played role in downfall of Spanish minister’

How transparent are countries when it regards company data? Score of the Netherlands on Open Corporates’ Open Company Data Index, compared to other EU countries. Ordered by score and alphabetically on English name. Source Open Corporates, chart dirkmjk.nl.

«There is a delicious irony in Soria being brought down in part by open data», Open Corporates wrote on their blog a week ago. By Soria they refer to former minister José Manuel Soria of the right-wing Partido Popular, who had just stepped down. The story, as summarised by Open Corporates:

Soria was discovered in the Panama Papers, but denied any connection to the Bahamas company referenced in them. It turns out that a company of the same name, UK Lines Limited, had been incorporated in the UK, with officerships linked to him and his family. Further investigation into this company and another UK one, Oceanic Lines Limited, used company filings and shareholder documents to show that these were indeed connected with Soria and his family. Yesterday, newspaper El Mundo nailed the case showing Soria was also director of a Jersey company when he was already a politician.

Information about the UK connection was obtained from Open Corporates. Journalists in other countries - from Nigeria to Argentina - have similarly used data from Open Corporates to make sense of the Panama Papers.

The information they used may well have been available from official databases as well. However, the fact that countries like the UK have opened up company data, and that Open Corporates serves as a portal to such information, makes it much easier to investigate abuses compared to a situation in which you have to buy each document you want to take a look at.

So what about the ‘delicious irony’ mentioned at the beginning of this article? Spain happens to be one of the most secretive countries in the world when it comes to company data, according Open Corporates:

you can’t even search to see if a company exists without giving your credit card, and they have been adamant that they will not open up the register, still less make it available as open data.

This earns Spain a score of 0/100 on the Open Company Data Index, which is even worse than the embarrassingly low score of 20/100 for the Netherlands. The good news here is that the Dutch Lower House has passed a motion asking the government to see whether it can open up the company register (KvK) as open data, and to report to Parliament this spring.