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OT’s & UK to establish 'technical working group' on Public Registers

OT’s & UK to establish 'technical working group' on Public Registers

The Virgin Islands, along with other Overseas Territories (OTs) in 2020 committed to implementing Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership by the end of 2023, providing it was a global standard.

This measure was; however, made somewhat complicated in November 2022 by the European Union Court of Justice ruling that registers containing the personal details of the owners of a company and accessible to the general public is an infringement of fundamental rights of privacy and personal data protection.

Some Overseas Territories and even Crown Dependencies have since indicated it would be difficult for them to implement Public Registers in light of the EU court ruling.

Nevertheless, it seems the United Kingdom is still pushing for its OTs to implement Public Registers, despite experts saying it could be damaging to Caribbean financial services jurisdictions. It seems the UK has acknowledged; however, the issue of privacy.

The European Union Court of Justice on November 22, 2022, struck down the European Union (EU) mandate for public registers of beneficial ownership of all companies.



Technical working group

According to a Communique by the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC); however, “the Overseas Territories and the UK are pleased to announce that we will be establishing a technical working group on beneficial ownership transparency to share expertise on, and consider issues around, the implementation of publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership that contain the necessary safeguards to protect the right to privacy.”

The issue of privacy rights was stressed by Deputy Premier and Minister for Financial Services, Labour and Trade Hon Lorna G. Smith, OBE, who said the technical working group will share expertise, discuss issues surrounding the implementation of publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership, ensuring the necessary safeguards to protect privacy rights.

“I look forward to the BVI’s active participation in the group and its deliberations and the announced ministerial-level dialogued focused on combating illicit finance for which the BVI has offered to host the inaugural meeting later this year,” Hon Smith stated at a press conference on May 16, 2023.

The Deputy Premier, who was part of the Premier’s recent delegation to the United Kingdom, disclosed that the working group has to get going quickly, “because the end of 2023 is within our sights.

She said the group will likely comprise persons from the legal profession and Financial Services Commission, and that a similar number of representatives from the OTs will make up the group, as well as representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO).
The Virgin Islands, along with other Overseas Territories (OTs) in 2020 committed to implementing Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership by the end of 2023, providing it was a global standard.



Singing from the same songbook!

Hon Smith emphasised it was important that the OT’s “sing from the same songbook” and that a mutual position is arrived at before the next JMC in November.

“We must in fact arrive at a position by the next JMC which is scheduled for November, so I would say hopefully by October we should have something very specific.”

Meanwhile, Premier and Minister of Finance Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7), while acknowledging the advantage of having Hon Smith as part of his delegation to the UK, said the VI was able to “fight” to ensure there was acknowledgement by the UK that the privacy of individuals must be safeguarded.

“And when you speak about that technical working group on beneficial ownership, that [privacy] is perhaps the most important point that needs to be highlighted, because we don’t want to violate the privacy of persons. Persons have a constitutional and a human right to privacy and it was important that was acknowledged by the United Kingdom Government in the Communique.
Demonstrators in Road Town in Decision March 2018 on May 24, 2018. The march was to reject the implementation of Public Registers in the VI.



VI marched against Public Registers

It was on Monday, May 21, 2018, when the House of Lords let stand an amendment made by the House of Commons to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill demanding that only Overseas Territories located in the Caribbean have registers of beneficial ownership.

No one else in the world or countries in the offshore sector, not even the UK or their Dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man, have to comply with such rules.

This resulted in a major public demonstration in the Virgin Islands on March 24, 2018, known as Decision March 2018.

BOSS

The Virgin Islands was quick to launch a new innovative technology platform called BOSS (Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System) to share VI company information and beneficial ownership data with UK law enforcement within 24 hours.

BOSS is being pushed as the alternative to public registers as it meets all international standards as defined by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and provides the appropriate balance between privacy and transparency; however, it remains to be seen if the UK and EU will recognise the system and discontinue trying to enforce the harmful policy of public registers.
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