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Publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership in the British Overseas Territories

Statement made on 15 July 2020

Statement UIN HCWS369

Statement

My Honourable Friend, the Minister for the Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development (Baroness Sugg), has made the following written Ministerial statement:

The Government welcomes the statements made by eight Overseas Territories in which they have committed to greater transparency by announcing they will establish publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership.

The eight Territories – Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands and St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, and the Turks and Caicos Islands – have all demonstrated good progress and political leadership as part of the global effort to increase transparency in financial services and tackle illicit finance.

This follows an earlier announcement made by the Crown Dependencies to implement publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership within the next few years, and the establishment of a publicly accessible register by Gibraltar, in line with the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

In line with the Sanctions and Money Laundering Act 2018 the Government will prepare a draft Order in Council before the end of 2020, which will be published. We hope that the British Virgin Islands will also commit to publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership without delay.

The Government considers that the end of 2023 is a reasonable deadline for the introduction of such registers. Meeting this date will be a considerable ask for many Overseas Territories, given their limited resources; especially those Overseas Territories that do not currently have a company beneficial ownership register. It will involve significant legislative and operational changes. To provide the Overseas Territories with assistance on registers the Government ran a technical workshop last July, hosted webinars in November and will be providing further assistance.

It took the UK over three years to introduce its own public register. The 2023 deadline also aligns with the Government’s international campaign to advance publicly accessible company beneficial ownership registers as a global norm. We believe that action on beneficial ownership information in the Overseas Territories should be complemented by improved public access to beneficial ownership information internationally. This maximises the protection of our national security.

The statements issued underscore the Overseas Territories’ continued contribution to the global fight to tackle illicit finance. However, it is not the only action they have taken.

All Overseas Territories with financial centres participate in the Exchange of Notes arrangements. These are bilateral arrangements under which they share beneficial ownership information with UK law enforcement and other agencies within 24 hours (or 1 hour in urgent cases). They are an invaluable capability for our law enforcement, particularly for the National Crime Agency on money laundering and asset denial activity. Last year’s statutory review found that these arrangements are working well and are providing UK law enforcement with rapid access to information used to support ongoing criminal investigations

Many Overseas Territories have committed to global tax transparency standards, including the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard; under which taxpayer financial account information is automatically exchanged for tax purposes. This reciprocal, automatic exchange of financial information addresses the secrecy that facilitates offshore tax evasion and provides evidence of tax non-compliance.

The Government therefore welcomes the statements on making company beneficial ownership information publicly accessible and all the constructive action the Overseas Territories are taking as responsible jurisdictions.

Linked statements

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords

Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership in the British Overseas Territories
Baroness Sugg
Minister for the Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development
Conservative, Life peer
Statement made 15 July 2020
HLWS361
Lords