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A European Union flag is waved in front of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, February 20, 2017. Picture taken February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville(reuters_tickers)
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU lawmakers voted on Tuesday to let the public see data about the owners of trusts and companies, tightening draft anti-money-laundering legislation that would have given such access to tax authorities but not to journalists and activists.
The amendment, passed by an overwhelming majority in the economic committee of the European Parliament, rejects the British government's traditional policy of protecting the privacy of inheritance trusts.
The bill was introduced after a series of revelations about wealthy individuals' ways of dodging tax by using shell companies, many of which came out of the "Panama Papers" leaks.
Under German and British pressure to protect the privacy and competitiveness of European companies, EU states agreed to limit access to the data to those with "a legitimate interest," a definition that would include tax authorities but not the wider public.
But EU lawmakers on Tuesday changed the draft to allow a wider right to access databases, aiming to step up the monitoring of dubious practices and further discourage the use of shell companies.
"The proposal would enable EU citizens to access beneficial ownership registers without having to demonstrate a legitimate interest in the information," parliament said in a statement.
The bill could be changed again in negotiations between the parliament, representatives of EU governments and the European Commission.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)