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G20 summit agrees beneficial ownership policy

Monday, 17 November, 2014

G20 countries, at their weekend summit in Brisbane on 15 and 16 November, adopted a policy document containing ten principles intended to improve the transparency of beneficial ownership of companies and trusts.

Among them is a requirement that trustees of express trusts and similar entities maintain adequate information on settlors, the protector, trustees and beneficiaries and make it available to the authorities.

However, the policy declaration, called G20 High-Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency, stops short of insisting on a central registry of beneficial ownership either for companies or for trusts. Central registries are suggested as a possible, though not necessary, solution where company ownership is concerned:
Countries should ensure that competent authorities (including law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities, supervisory authorities, tax authorities and financial intelligence units) have timely access to adequate, accurate and current information regarding the beneficial ownership of legal persons. Countries could implement this, for example, through central registries of beneficial ownership of legal persons or other appropriate mechanisms.’

The central registry idea is not mentioned at all as appropriate for trusts:
Countries should ensure that trustees of express trusts maintain adequate, accurate and current beneficial ownership information, including information of settlors, the protector (if any) trustees and beneficiaries. These measures should also apply to other legal arrangements with a structure or function similar to express trusts.

In both cases, though, the G20 policy document indicates that beneficial ownership information should be internationally exchanged in the same way as information on taxable income and assets:
Countries should support G20 efforts to combat tax evasion by ensuring that beneficial ownership information is accessible to their tax authorities and can be exchanged with relevant international counterparts in a timely and effective manner.

The document ends by committing G20 countries to ‘leading by example in implementing these agreed principles’.

As a next step, each G20 country commits to take concrete action and to share in writing steps to be taken to implement these principles and improve the effectiveness of our legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks with respect to beneficial ownership transparency’, the document says.

Sources

  • G20 (Communiqué, PDF file)
  • G20 (Beneficial ownership principles, PDF file)
  • Irish Times