The United Kingdom government has mandated that anyone should be able to use the internet and see the owners of companies registered by the financial services industries in all its Overseas Territories.
Britain published this decision yesterday in a draft order called the Overseas Territories (Publicly Accessible Registers of Beneficial Ownership of Companies) Order.
The order outlines the guidelines the UK expects its OTs to abide by as they all move to implement systems that reveal the owners of the offshore companies they register.
Implementing publicly accessible registers is something the UK and European Union are pressuring the BVI and other OTs to do as it is believed naming owners of companies will help countries identify tax evaders and stop international money laundering.
Section 8 of the new draft order states that a register is “publicly accessible” if, and only if the information contained in it may be accessed by any member of the general public.
It also says a register is “publicly accessible” if, and only if persons can use the internet to see the information on these companies.
Big problem for BVI
After the UK released the draft order yesterday, the BVI government released a statement which said Premier Andrew Fahie has told the UK government that the BVI “has significant reservations regarding the Draft Order”.
According to the statement from the government, Premier Fahie said the creation of publicly accessible registers will reveal a range of data of a personal and private nature.
“In so doing, the Draft Order may pose a threat to those privacy rights secured to individuals under the Constitution of the Virgin Islands,” the Premier said.
“This is, however, subject to ongoing proceedings before the Virgin Islands High Court and so the Premier will not comment further except to say that this is a matter for the Court to consider and decide in the usual way,” he further stated.
BOSSs is enough
In the statement, the government said it was already regulating the financial services industry with the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search system (“BOSSs”) which the BVI established in 2017.
BOSSs is different from the system the UK is proposing because it doesn’t share personal information with the general public but only with “relevant law enforcement agencies to prevent financial crime”.
In the statement released yesterday, the Premier said “any modification of the BOSS system could only be done taking into account the concerns raised by the Government of the Virgin Islands, global best practice and obligations under the Constitution of the Virgin Islands”.
At this point, it is unclear what consequences the BVI’s financial services industry will face if the territory doesn’t implement publicly accessible registers in accordance with the UK’s new policy.
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