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Beneficial ownership register to go public

In control: Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda’s companies beneficial ownership register is to go public.Financial regulator the Bermuda Monetary Authority has kept records of the owners of companies for about 70 years. The information is available to tax and law enforcement authorities through the island’s information-sharing mechanisms. The Government said it would put forward legislation making the register accessible to the public by January 2023.In doing so, Bermuda is following the lead of the UK Crown Dependencies, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, and the Cayman Islands, all of which made similar commitments last year.A Bermuda government spokeswoman said: “Recognising the importance of the provision of beneficial ownership information for the prevention and detection of domestic and cross-border crime, and in anticipation of the implementation of a global standard which Bermuda has similarly committed to meet once adopted, and in keeping with Bermuda’s previous commitments, the Government of Bermuda intends to make the companies central register of beneficial ownership information accessible to the public.”Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, said: “Bermuda has always led by example. We have a longstanding commitment to compliance with international standards on tax co-operation, transparency and combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system. “Accordingly, we have actively engaged with our global partners in respect of beneficial ownership and transparency.“This announcement today underpins our commitment to ensure that Bermuda remains a jurisdiction of choice for quality and compliant business. “We are grateful to our industry stakeholders who have supported the Bermuda Government’s efforts, as we continue to stay in line with evolving international standards in terms of regulation and best practice, affirming our reputation as a well-regulated and respected jurisdiction.”The Government said the EU was due to publish an implementation review of the fifth Anti Money-Laundering Directive in January 2022. The statement added: “Within 12 months of that publication, we will therefore bring forward to the legislature proposals to establish public access to beneficial ownership data of companies held on a central register.”International law firm Conyers issued a bulletin on the Government’s announcement yesterday. Conyers stated: “The announcement is made in anticipation of, and it would appear is contingent upon, public registers of beneficial ownership of companies becoming a global, international standard.”The Bermuda Government has long argued that the island should not have to make company ownership information public until other countries do the same, on the grounds that it would cause economic damage.Britain has been calling for its Overseas Territories to open access to public ownership registers since 2013. The Progressive Labour Party government and the One Bermuda Alliance that preceded it both opposed Britain’s attempt to force its will on the island.In 2018, David Burt, the Premier, said the British Parliament’s amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which demanded that OTs make ownership registers public, showed “wanton disregard for the unique constitutional position of Bermuda”.Mr Burt added: “This action is imposed in the absence of any applicable international standard and can only be viewed as a direct assault on the conduct of legal business in the Overseas Territories.”Britain will issue an Order in Council in December 2020, requiring OTs to establish public registers. The Bermuda Government has argued that the order would breach the Bermuda Constitution.On a visit to Bermuda in April, Lord Tariq Ahmad, then the British Minister for the Overseas Territories, told The Royal Gazette that the UK was pushing for public registers to become an international standard by 2023, the same deadline being imposed on Bermuda.The EU’s fifth Anti Money-Laundering Directive takes a step in that direction. It requires all of the bloc’s member states to make publicly accessible ultimate beneficial ownership registers for companies, while storing the same information for trusts, to be available to those with a legitimate interest. In October last year, the Cayman Islands declared its intentions to be fully transparent on company ownership, adding that it expected to table legislation in 2022.