Premier: critics show ‘a lack of respect’
Michael Dunkley has hit back at calls for Bermuda to make its beneficial ownership information public, claiming that critics are “attempting to solve a problem that does not exist”.
After three days of meetings in London, the British Overseas Territories agreed to put information on the people who ultimately own and control companies — so-called beneficial owners — in centralised registries, something the Premier noted that Bermuda had done for more than 70 years.
Rosie Sharpe from international transparency campaign group Global Witness claimed the move “falls short of what is needed” and called for the information to be made fully public.
Ed Miliband, then as the Leader of the British Opposition, had threatened that a Labour administration would brand Bermuda a tax haven unless it published a list of the beneficial owners of offshore firms.
After talks this week, the OTs announced in a statement: “We noted that the Overseas Territories were responsible for their own tax rates and generating the revenue necessary for the provision of essential public services. It is not appropriate to refer to British Territories as tax havens.
“We agreed to hold beneficial ownership information in our respective jurisdictions via central registers or similarly effective systems.
“We discussed the details of how these systems should be implemented, including through technical dialogue between the Overseas Territories and UK law enforcement authorities on further developing a timely, safe and secure information exchange process to increase our collective effectiveness for the purposes of law enforcement.
“We agreed that addressing this issue would be given the highest priority and that progress on implementation would be kept under continuous and close review.”
Mr Dunkley, who flew back to Bermuda yesterday, stated: “Bermuda has had for over 70 years a world-leading, Government-held central register of beneficial ownership that long predates those in most developed countries, including the UK, and has at every opportunity shared the information requested by legitimate international authorities, within 24 hours.”
Mr Dunkley dismissed the idea that Bermuda may encourage illicit practices by refusing to fully share its data.
He added: “Those who demand Bermuda makes its register public are attempting to solve a problem that does not exist, and demonstrate a lack of respect towards the transparency and regulatory standards Bermuda has upheld, arguably unsurpassed, for many decades.”
Ms Sharpe called the agreement “a small step forward”, but claimed it did little to prevent serious corruption.
She said: “The UK's Overseas Territories lie at the heart of the global secrecy industry; companies registered here are the most abused in the world.”
She added that a study by the World Bank into more than 200 cases of grand corruption had concluded that companies from Overseas Territories are most popular with the corrupt.
“This measure may help the UK track down tax evaders and the corrupt, but what about the rest of the world?” said Ms Sharpe.
“The only way for tax inspectors and law enforcement to easily know that someone is hiding money in a bank account that belongs to a company is for information on the people who own and control companies to be public.”
One of the Overseas Territories, Montserrat, recently announced that it would make information on beneficial owners public, albeit not online and for a small fee.
Ms Sharpe said: “David Cameron is hosting an anti-corruption summit next May.
“But the UK will lack credibility in calling for other countries to get better at tackling corruption when its own backyard remains shrouded in secrecy. We need a fully public register.
“David Cameron said that he would continue to make the case to the Overseas Territories for company ownership transparency.
“Private centralised information is not a transparency measure.”
Global Witness also raised concerns that no timetable has been set out, and does not define what it means by “similarly effective systems”.
• To read the Joint Ministerial Council 2015 Communiqué in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”.