Industry News

UK sets out beneficial ownership register demands on territories

Monday, 16 November, 2015

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has set out exactly what it requires of its Overseas Territories regarding transparency of company beneficial ownership.

The demands stop short of a public central register, but do require that companies or their beneficial owners must not be alerted to the fact that an investigation is under way.

They were stated in letters to the premiers of the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda in March this year, though not then published in full. They are to form the basis of negotiations with Britain's Overseas Territories (OTs) at the Joint Ministerial Council starting on 30 November.

In response to a parliamentary question from Margaret Hodge, FCO minister James Duddridge stated the UK's explicit requirements as follows:

• UK law enforcement and tax authorities must be able to access company beneficial ownership information without restriction, subject to relevant safeguards;

• these competent authorities should be able to quickly identify all companies that a particular beneficial owner has a stake in without needing to submit multiple and repeated requests; and

• companies or their beneficial owners must not be alerted to the fact that an investigation is under way.

Duddridge said he will use the Joint Ministerial Council meeting 'to press the premiers to repeat their commitments to uphold international standards of transparency to ensure the highest degree of effectiveness including on holding beneficial ownership information. I will be discussing their proposals and timetable for doing so.'

Most OTs, and the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, have indicated they do not want to have central registries. It is now up to them to suggest alternative ways of providing the UK authorities with the information they want without having first to contact the companies or individuals concerned.

• In a separate statement, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron has made a further commitment to central registers of the ownership of companies and trusts. It reiterates that the UK will have a central register of beneficiaries of trusts that produce UK tax consequences, to be immediately available to the UK authorities, as a well as a central publicly available register of company beneficial ownership. The trust register is likely to be based on tax filings, including filings for automatic exchange of information (AEOI) purposes. 

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