By Davion Smith, BVI News Journalist
The British Virgin Islands is once again under pressure to reveal the names of beneficial owners of offshore companies registered in the territory.
Beneficial owners are persons who enjoy the benefits of ownership in a company even though the title of the company is in another person’s name.
Roughly three months ago, the majority of UK parliamentarians voted against a public register that would reveal the names of beneficial owners in the BVI and other Overseas Territories.
The public register was part of the UK’s Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. But, the UK Opposition has called for the bill to be amended.
Thersa May administration backs BVI
The Prime Minister Theresa May-led government is opposed to the amendment but Premier Dr D Orlando Smith fears they will be outnumbered when the amendment is put to a vote in the next few days.
“As a minority administration, there is no certainty that [the Prime Minister’s government] will prevail,” Dr Smith said while expressing resentment for the proposed amendment.
He was speaking in the House of Assembly on Thursday, April 26.
“We reject the idea that our democratically elected government should be superceded by the United Kingdom parliament, especially in an area which has been entrusted to the BVI people,” the Premier said.
“It will undermine the constitutional relationships between the BVI and the United Kingdom and indeed be a sad day for democracy,” he added.
Anti-money laundering systems already implemented
According to the UK, beneficial owners use their corporate anonymity to launder money and to evade paying taxes.
But, Premier Smith said BVI has systems in place to fight against these financial crimes.
He said the BVI Foreign Office is now engaging UK parliamentarians about the territory’s anti-money laundering and tax transparency strategies such as the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System, otherwise known as BOSS.
“[BOSS] puts BVI at the cutting edge of facilitating effective law enforcement against those who might seek to use our business companies for nefarious purposes,” the Premier said.
He said BOSS ensures “beneficial ownership information is directly and immediately available to BVI competent authorities”.
He continued: “The government will continue to make clear that should public registers become the global standard, then BVI will comply”.
The Premier believes the territory will lose its competitive edge as a financial services jurisdiction if it starts revealing the names of beneficial owners who decide to register their companies in the BVI.
The local financial service industry accounts for roughly 60 percent of government’s annual revenue and contributes significantly to the BVI’s gross domestic product.
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