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Public register of beneficial ownership: Legislation delay

Business | Published:

MOVES to force Britain’s Overseas Territories to introduce public registers of company beneficial ownership have been delayed to 2023.

Crown Dependencies' flags

The Foreign Office has told the Overseas Territories – which include the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands – that they do not need to introduce the registers until 2023.

That is three years later than the date that British MPs thought they had set in law.

Supporters of the registers claim that they reveal the true ownership of companies held in offshore finance centres and address concerns around tax transparency. However, the move by MPs to legislate in this way for the Overseas Territories sparked threats to take the UK government to court or even secede.

Moves to include the Crown Dependencies in the legislation were unsuccessful, although supporters have signalled their intention to continue with their campaign to get Jersey and Guernsey to introduce public registers.

Warnings were given that attempts by the UK parliament to legislate for the Crown Dependencies on domestic matters would run contrary to constitutional conventions. The leaders of Bermuda, Cayman and the BVI all stated that the imposition of legislative powers by Britain would not be tolerated by their governments.

The Premier of Bermuda, David Birt, condemned it, saying: ‘This attempt to legislate for Bermuda from London is a return to base colonialism and is an action that has no place in 2018. It is especially telling that the Crown Dependencies are not included in this amendment, which is restricted to the Caribbean OTs and Bermuda.’

Geoff Cook, CEO of Jersey Finance, said: ‘Jersey’s approach to managing beneficial ownership information remains clear and unchanged – we believe fundamentally that ensuring we have accurate information on our central register, which we’ve had in place for three decades, is more important than making a register public.

‘At the same time, information on our register is available to the people who need that vital information and we’re constantly working with law enforcement agencies and other relevant authorities to ensure they have everything they need.

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‘It’s an approach that is proven to work and that is in line with international standards. If those standards change in the future, then of course we will also consider moving in line with them.’

In November 2018, UK minister Ben Wallace said: ‘The Crown Dependencies have confirmed they will develop public registers of company beneficial ownership once it has been established as a global norm.’

The 2023 timetable was laid out by Lord Ahmad, the minister responsible for the Overseas Territories, in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. He told the committee: ‘It is our intention that if by 2020 there is no public register, for whatever territory, we will then issue an order in council, which will then have a requirement for an operational public register by 2023.’

Gwyn Garfield-Bennett

By Gwyn Garfield-Bennett
Business Editor

Gwyn is a highly experienced journalist having worked in UK national TV for the BBC and ITN, as well as running her own magazine publishing business, freelancing for national newspapers and UK magazines. She has a CIPR Diploma in Public relations, excellent digital skills and is an experienced digital marketing practitioner. Gwyn is also an author of several books.

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