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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Efforts to end corruption will be undermined as long as corrupt officials are able to hide their ill-gotten gains in other countries, a global watchdog said on Wednesday as it released its annual corruption rankings.
Transparency International (TI) said countries with limited public sector corruption could help stop it elsewhere by doing more to prevent money laundering and the creation of secret companies.
More than two-thirds of the 175 countries TI surveyed performed poorly, scoring less than 50 percent on its 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The index, which is based on perceived levels of public sector corruption for which scores are given by business people and country experts, rates countries from zero to 100 percent, zero being the most corrupt.
TI Chairman José Ugaz said the index showed that economic growth and efforts to stop graft were undermined when leaders and officials abused their power by appropriating public funds for personal gain.
"Corrupt officials smuggle ill-gotten assets into safe havens through offshore companies with absolute impunity," Ugaz said in a statement.
Denmark is seen as the least corrupt country in the world, topping the index for the third successive year, followed by New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Norway.
North Korea and Somalia came last, faring worse than Sudan, Afghanistan and South Sudan.
China had one of the biggest falls in the index, dropping 20 places to 100th, despite the government's launch of an anti-corruption campaign targeting corrupt public officials.
TI said too many Chinese corruption cases were heard behind closed doors and called for prosecutions to be more transparent and all forms of bribery to be outlawed.
In a separate report on corporate disclosure practices published by TI last month, Chinese companies held eight of the bottom 13 places in the index.
TI said Denmark announced plans last month to create a public register for all companies incorporated in the country, making it harder for corrupt people to hide behind companies registered in another person's name.
It urged the European Union, the United States and G20 countries to follow Denmark's lead and create public registers that would make clear who controls or is the beneficial owner of every company.
"None of us would fly on planes that do not register passengers, yet we allow secret companies to conceal illegal activity," TI managing director Cobus de Swardt said in a statement.
"Public registers that show who really owns a company would make it harder for the corrupt to take off with the spoils of their abuse of power."
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Tim Pearce