Hong Kong proposed amendments that would make tracing the personal details of company directors in the city more difficult, amid increased scrutiny of the wealth held by Hong Kong and Chinese officials and their families.
The proposal would obscure the residential addresses and full identification numbers of a company’s directors to the public from the first quarter next year, according to a document submitted to the Legislative Council. Individuals can also apply to have these personal details blocked on historical filings.
“It’s counter to the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the media and transparency,” David Webb, the founder of corporate-governance website Webb-site.com, said of the proposed limitation on the disclosure of ID numbers. “In terms of exposing corruption, it does make it harder to identify people when you don’t have an ID number that can be tracked across different databases.”
The Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper reported the development yesterday. The article said reporters used company registry documents to discover the link between Secretary for Development Paul Chan and a company that subdivided an apartment.
Calls made to the Legislative Council, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, and the Companies Registry were not answered outside business hours yesterday.
The new limitations, put forward by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau and the city’s Companies Registry, were proposed in November as part of a consultation document for subsidiary legislation to a new Companies Ordinance.
The proposed amendment to the transparency of company filings in Hong Kong comes amid growing media scrutiny of the assets of China’s leaders. In a statement, the Hong Kong-based Journalism Educators for Press Freedom group called for the amendment to be withdrawn.
“From a single residential address, journalists can discover leads that help them to uncover facts and untangle webs of interconnections and show the bigger picture,” the group said. “To cut off this channel of discovery is to seriously stifle an important source of information for journalists.”
Bloomberg News last year relied on Hong Kong and Chinese identity card numbers contained in filings to chart the business relationships and assets of the families of China’s incoming president, Xi Jinping, ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai and the descendants of veteran revolutionaries, known as the Eight Immortals, who ran China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. The New York Times traced assets owned by the family of outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, also with the help of Hong Kong records, according to an October article.
All Hong Kong residents 11 years old and above are required to register for an identity card, according to the city’s immigration department.