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CAYMAN COMMENDED BUT PRESSURE MOUNTS ON BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP REGISTERS

International 11 Dec, 2023 Follow News

David Rutley

Mathew Offord MP

Dame Margaret Hodge

Cayman has been commended in the British Parliament (House of Commons) for its continuing efforts to comply with international financial industry standards.

The recognition came during a backbench debate on the Beneficial Ownership Regulations.

Tabled by Dame Margaret Hodge of the Labour Party, the debate by the Business Committee of the House of Commons was aimed at pressing the British government to force the Overseas Territories(OTs) and Crown Dependencies(CDs) to implement the Public Access to Registers of Beneficial Ownership.

“The (British) Government needs to respect the will of Parliament and meet the implementation deadline at the end of 2023,” she stated in the session on Thursday December 7th.

Dame Margaret Hodge who has been pushing for the regulations to be enacted called on the UK Government to “lay an Order in Council formally requiring the UK’s Overseas Territories to implement public registers of beneficial ownership if the deadline is not met.”

Her outline argument for the debate further considers Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership to be an essential transparency measure to combat tax evasion, money laundering and other economic crimes.

The British Government had previously drafted an Order in Council to be imposed on the OTs thereby directly implementing the Public Access to Registers of Beneficial Ownership(PARBO). However, that has not been pushed through. It was disclosed during the debate that several OTs had been taking steps voluntarily to implement the regulations with guidance and support from the British government. Whether or not the UK government has the power to impose such legislation on the CDs continues to be a point of contention.

During the debate, MPS were united in questioning what were regarded as inaccessible accounts held in Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies which they feared could hide ill-gotten gains and be used for tax evasion and terrorist financing.

But it was also pointed out that the UK capital, London and its world-leading financial centre, was also the subject of similar concerns.

THE CASE FOR CAYMAN

However, speaking in defence of the Cayman Islands, Conservative MP Matthew Offord reminded of the efforts being made locally to comply with international standards.

“I know that the Cayman government was among eight territories committed to introducing their public accessible register by the end of the year. A lot of progress has been made,” he noted.

“The Cayman Islands have made great strides in navigating the complex intersections of transparency, governance and international standards. And it’s worth bringing these to light in order that they may serve as an example for other overseas territories and crown dependencies and provide members here with some hope that they are actually playing their part.”

MP Offord also stated: “It’s worth pointing out the Cayman Islands has indeed maintained an electronic register of beneficial ownership information for the corporate legal entity since 2017. It is verified and updated by authorized corporate service providers, which then pass on the information to UK law enforcement within 24 hours.”

EU COURT RULING

Private access to beneficial ownership registers - information on who holds a particular account - is already allowable, but there continues to be queries over what has been termed ‘legitimate requests’ for public access to the registers. That has been bolstered by a recent European Court ruling that the current regulations requiring public access were too broad in their interpretation and encroach on privacy rights.

That development has also been noted by MP Offord who pointed out that complexities arise with the proviso that public accessibility was an accepted international standard, particularly among EU member states. “As members are aware…a 2022 ruling of the (EU) Court of Justice stated that unrestricted public access to beneficial ownership information is incompatible with the right to private life.”

GET ON BOARD, UK INSISTS

Responding for the UK government, David Rutley, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Overseas Territories, warned that the government was intent on having Public Access to Registers of Beneficial Ownership implemented. The process has been in place in the UK since 2016 and the government wants it extended to the OTs and Crown Dependencies.

He informed the backbench session that the government planned to update the British Parliament before the end of this year (in a matter of weeks) and was intent on pushing through with the legislation in 2024.

“The train is leaving the station,” he cautioned. “It’s time for all of our friends in the Overseas Territories and CDs (Crown Dependencies) to get on board.”


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