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London: New data leak exposes owners of 400,000 anonymous companies

Millions of documents leaked from a corporate services firm with a posh London address are helping journalists unmask owners of secret offshore companies and the alleged criminal activities of some of those owners.

The information about the secret companies was leaked from Formations House. The firm does business from a front office located at 29 Harley Street in central London. Back office support reportedly comes from Pakistan.

The leaked data first went to the transparency group Distributed Denial of Secrets. DDoSecrets, as it’s called, then made the data available to the public at its website here.

The data covers a ten-year period from 2008 to 2018.

One published report said #29Leaks data (named for Formations House’s 29 Harley Street address) appears to show that “a Formations House client ran a car-trafficking ring that cost Slovenian and Croatian taxpayers millions,” according to the OCCRP (The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project).

“In another, a fraudster banned from doing business in his native India skipped out on a construction deal in Serbia before buying a fake Gambian bank from Formations House,” the OCCRP said.

The OCCRP has indexed stories written from #29Leaks materials. The index — now involving 39 countries — appears on an interactive globe posted here (scroll halfway down the page and look right).

There’s usually nothing illegal about owning or controlling anonymous companies. But the companies are sometimes used to evade taxes, launder money, and hide assets. Corporate services providers that negligently or intentionally set up companies used to commit or conceal crimes can face prosecution or other sanctions.

In London, Formations House is run by Charlotte Pawar. She took control of the business in 2015 after her stepfather died. She has said the firm has formed 400,000 companies.

Pawar told journalists she reported the leaked data as stolen, and that Formations House has faced extortion attempts. The OCCRP said it is “not aware of such actions and Pawar did not provide evidence to support these claims despite several inquiries from reporters.”

McClatchy said many people working for Formations House use “European-sounding names like Oliver Hartmann.” But they’re actually “outsourced agents” operating remotely from Pakistan. Oliver Hartmann turned out to be Syed Rizwan Ahmed, a Pakistani from Lahore, McClatchy said.

[Editor’s note: A prior version of this post incorrectly said the public does not have access to the #29Leaks materials. The public in fact does have access through the DDoSecrets website here.]

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The OCCRP has posted a video that appears to show an undercover journalist talking to Formations House’s boss, Charlotte Pawar.

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