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Hong Kong's Corporate Directors Want Some Privacy

Proposed legislation would make it harder to trace executives
Li Ka-shing, chairman of Hutchison Whampoa, at a news conference in Hong Kong in 2012
Li Ka-shing, chairman of Hutchison Whampoa, at a news conference in Hong Kong in 2012Photography by Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Late one night last November, staffers of the A3Medical Anti-Aging Center say they were told by their boss’s brother that the salon would close for renovations. It never reopened. Former employees were anxious to track down the owner to retrieve the HK$900,000 ($116,000) they said they were still owed. Using data listed in Hong Kong’s Companies Registry, they traced their boss to another business she owned. After picketing its office, Man Lee, 32, says she and five colleagues got some of their money back.

Man was one of more than 1,000 workers who have used the records to track down missing employers in the past two years. Soon that may no longer be possible. Hong Kong’s government wants to restrict public access to the Companies Registry, which keeps records of corporate directors, a category that includes chief executive officers, board directors, and company secretaries. That could make it easier to launder money and cheat on taxes, according to lawyers and corporate transparency advocates. “The less transparent a corporate entity is, then the greater scope for criminal malpractice,” says Gordon Jones, registrar of companies from 1993 to 2007, who opposes the change. “The free flow of information is Hong Kong’s big competitive advantage.”