Crown Dependencies to make registers public
Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have pledged to make their beneficial ownership registries public by 2023.
The move by the Crown Dependencies comes as Britain is applying pressure on its Overseas Territories, including Bermuda, to make company ownership records open to the public.
Unveiling of the three islands’ records will come in three phases. By 2021, the registries will be merged with the European Union system to give access to authorities in the bloc.
In 2022, financial-services businesses will be given access in order to help them do their due diligence.
And in 2023, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man will table legislation to open the registries to the public.
Like Bermuda, the Dependencies already allow access to the records to overseas authorities who make a request.
In the UK, beneficial ownership records are public and anyone who owns 25 per cent or more of a company is named.
Britain will issue an Order in Council in December 2020, requiring the Overseas Territories to establish public registers. The Bermuda Government has argued such an order would breach the Bermuda Constitution.
Lord Tariq Ahmad, Britain’s Foreign Office Minister for the Overseas Territories, said during a visit to Bermuda two months ago that Britain’s Conservative government had been opposed to taking this course of action, but was obliged to do so after the UK Parliament passed an amendment to the Sanctions and Money Laundering Bill.
Gavin St Pier, Chief Minister of Guernsey, said the Dependencies’ move was bringing the islands into line with “regional standards” of financial transparency, and that he did not expect that it would discourage businesses from operating there.
Howard Quayle, the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, said that the European Union’s plan for all member states to implement their own public registries by 2023 “creates a clear direction of travel”.
Mr Quayle added: “It is in all our strategic interests and our standing as responsible jurisdictions to commit to further develop the accessibility and transparency of our register of beneficial ownership for companies.”
Some in the island’s business communities had reservations.
Tony Mancini, president of the Guernsey International Business Association, said confidentiality was the “bedrock” of Guernsey’s financial model and to “unilaterally” discard it could be economically damaging.
Mr Mancini told the Guernsey Press: “Our clients have many legitimate reasons for wanting to keep their affairs private and they value the ability that Guernsey has to achieve that in a responsible way.
“Our clients also recognise the importance of adhering to evolving international standards. So it is key to us that Guernsey maintains confidentiality while it is the international norm.
“We all accept that if standards change such that publicly accessible registers become the norm, then we must change in line with that.”
John Shenton, a director at the Jersey branch of Grant Thornton, said the move would unnecessarily risk individuals’ private information being exposed to “tabloid sensationalism”, given it is available to the authorities for “legitimate reasons” already, the BBC reported.
Stuart Platt-Ransom, chief executive officer at Oak Group, a private client, corporate services and fund administration group with offices in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, told the Guernsey Press: “The current registers are not secret as they are available to the authorities if needed.
“There were real and justifiable reasons why beneficial ownership registers were private. These structures and companies are ordinarily not private for tax-driven reasons, contrary to what the groups lobbying for this public register claim.
“I think the real crux of this is quite simple. If and to the extent global protocol calls for this transparency, then that’s fine and just.”
Dame Margaret Hodge, one of the UK Parliament’s most prominent campaigners for greater transparency in Britain’s territories, told the BBC that she welcomed the proposed change, but expressed scepticism about how “transparent” the final register would be until further clarifications were made by the islands.
“Their action plan is awash with get-out clauses, and we still do not know what the register will ultimately look like,” she said.
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