Mapping the global geography of shell companies

Authors: Giulia Aliprandi, Thijs Busschots, and Carlos Oliveira

This note examines the global prevalence and distribution of shell companies, which are often used for illicit financial activities like tax evasion. Using business registry data for over 200 jurisdictions, including individual US states, we construct an indicator of shell company prevalence based on the number of registered companies per capita. We find that known tax havens like the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands have extremely high rates of company presence per adult. Zooming in on Europe reveals Estonia as a lesser-known host for shell companies, besides flagging known conduit countries like Luxembourg and Cyprus. A unique decomposition of US states also shows Delaware and Wyoming are potentially hosting a large number of shell companies. Indicative for the role of shell companies in international tax evasion, our shell company prevalence indicator correlates with jurisdiction characteristics catering tax evasion, such as low corporate tax rate and aggressive tax treaties.