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Britain prepares draft order-in-council on public registers

Draft order-in-council: Wendy Morton, Britain’s Minister for the European Neighbourhood and the Americas

Britain has drafted an order-in-council laying out how it expects its Overseas Territories to set up publicly accessible registers detailing beneficial owners of companies.

However, Wendy Morton, a Foreign Office minister, said in the House of Commons that the order will not actually be enacted, given that territories including Bermuda have committed to making ownership registers public.

Bermuda has kept a company ownership register for about 70 years. In July this year, Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, pledged to make it public by 2023. Eight other British territories have made similar commitments.

Ms Morton, a Member of Parliament for the ruling Conservative party, said the draft order-in-council, which, if enacted, would have the power of law, was prepared in accordance with section 51 of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018.

She added that the OTs’ commitment to make registers public “demonstrates their commitment to tackle flows of illicit finance”.

Ms Morton said: “By introducing publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership, the Overseas Territories are showing that they are responsible jurisdictions and a collaborative partner to the UK.

“This builds on the Exchange of Notes arrangements which sees the Territories with financial centres share invaluable company beneficial ownership information with UK law enforcement agencies at short notice.

“A statutory review of these arrangements last year found that they are working well and are providing our law enforcement with invaluable information to support ongoing investigations.

“In the light of the firm commitments from all of the inhabited Overseas Territories to adopt publicly accessible registers, the UK Government have decided that it is now not necessary to make the Order under Section 51, but will keep this under review.”

The public register issue has been a political hot potato since David Cameron, the former British Prime Minister, demanded seven years ago that the OTs should keep company owner information and make it available to the public.

Bermuda’s position has long been that it would be willing to make its register public only when this became a global standard, otherwise the island would suffer economic damage.

Ms Morton said: “The UK Government is spearheading an international campaign to encourage more countries to commit to publicly accessible registers by 2023. The UK will continue to work with all Territories to support their implementation of publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership by the end of 2023.”

She said the draft order sets out a minimum definition of beneficial ownership. This encompasses both direct and indirect control over companies and includes control through shareholdings, voting rights or the right to appoint or remove a majority of directors. “Where a Territory attaches a percentage to the type of control the draft order sets out that this cannot be higher than 25 per cent,” Ms Morton added.

The information on an individual must include their name, country of residence, nationality, month and year of birth and the nature of their control over the company.

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Published December 31, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 31, 2020 at 8:23 am)

Britain prepares draft order-in-council on public registers

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