Zurich - The Swiss government plans to create a central registry to track who actually owns legal entities in a move to fight money-laundering via shell companies, it said on Wednesday.

The cabinet asked the finance ministry to draft specific proposals by mid-2023 that could increase transparency by making it easier to identify corporate owners.

The move aims "to strengthen the prevention and prosecution of financial crime and thus the integrity and reputation of Switzerland as a financial centre and business location", it said in a statement.

Switzerland, whose banks make it the world's biggest manager of offshore wealth, has long sought to fight its old image as a place for criminals to stash ill-gotten gains. It routinely exchanges bank account information with over 100 countries.

But it has faced international pressure to shed more light onto the shadowy world of corporate ownership, where many companies cloak the identity of the real beneficiaries.

The goal was to create a central register for identifying owners and updating information about actual beneficiaries.

"The register should be accessible to relevant authorities, but not to the public. The aim is to find a solution that is as effective and efficient as possible," it said in a statement.

It asked the finance ministry to also consider steps to tighten anti-money-laundering rules, for example by widening their scope to include the legal professions, it said.

Parliament has in the past rejected the idea of subjecting lawyers and financial advisers to the same rules that banks face on reporting suspicious transactions.

(Reporting by Michael Shields Editing by Bernadette Baum)