After public pressure, anonymous owner of Nevada’s largest paper comes forward

December 22nd, 2015

He bought the company, exerted influence, and dictated events to be covered, and he did it all anonymously.

Just two weeks ago, all we knew was that a company called NEWS + MEDIA GROUP, LLC purchased The Las Vegas Review Journal, Nevada’s largest daily newspaper. It was reported that an executive from NEWS + MEDIA GROUP told journalists that were asking questions that the owner planned to remain anonymous, and just wanted the reporters to ‘do their jobs’.

After a quick entity search, it was easy to find out that the new parent company was incorporated in the notoriously secretive state of Delaware. What wasn’t so easy was uncovering the identity of the beneficial owner, the person ultimately in control of the company, because Delaware doesn’t require that information to be disclosed.

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But after staying anonymous for a little over a week, the new owner, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, finally succumbed to relentless questions from his own news staff, national media outlets, and even presidential candidates:

Owning a newspaper will undoubtedly put a huge amount of added pressure on a new owner. That’s only exacerbated when the paper was purchased for $38 million more than it was sold for just nine months before.

But there’s an important point that’s perhaps being overlooked in all of this: the only reason the owner came forward was due to intense scrutiny that could only be directed towards something as public facing as a newspaper.

Companies are incorporated everyday under anonymity, and they don’t go under the magnifying glass like the Las Vegas Review Journal. As a matter of fact, they fly completely under the radar. Often, it’s only after a crime has been committed that it’s discovered that anonymous companies were involved.

Most states don’t require an owner to disclose their identity, giving pretty much anyone the ability to open a corporation anonymously. Global Witness, an FTC member, documented how anonymous companies incorporated in the U.S. have been used by everyone from corporate tax evaders and fraudsters to drug cartels and arms dealers to carry out their crimes.

Fortunately, there’s a straightforward fix: registers of beneficial ownership.

If companies had to disclose their beneficial owner(s) when incorporated, it would help investigators, journalists, and civil society peel back the layers that anonymous companies create and stop crimes before they start. Some countries have already begun taking steps to implement registers. Ukraine launched its register earlier this year, and the UK’s register will come online next year. The EU passed a law requiring similar registers, though they won’t be completely public.

The U.S. should take steps to catch up to Europe, because the next anonymous company incorporated to carry out a crime won’t be scrutinized like one used to buy a newspaper in an early Presidential primary state.

Written by Christian Freymeyer

Christian is the FTC's Press & Digital Media Coordinator. Follow him on Twitter @cfreymeyer.

Image used under Creative Commons license / Flickr User Elvert Barnes

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