Reservations Linger Over Public Registers! Premier Says Kidnappers Could Access Info
The Virgin Islands continues to express reservations over the push by the United Kingdom (UK) to have the Overseas Territories (OTs) implement public registers of beneficial owners for the financial services industry, citing among other things, kidnappers having access to information.
Essentially, the BVI's position remains unchanged despite the UK's deadline of 2023 and the commitment from other Overseas Territories to implement registers of beneficial owners that are accessible to the public.
Premier and Minister of Finance, Hon. Andrew Fahie wrote to the UK Government this month to make a case for alternative models that allow access to the various levels of data that would be contained in a register, which models contain built-in safeguards such as the use of warrants approved by the court based on the demonstration of probable cause to grant access to sensitive personal information.
“These pose significantly less risk to the financial services industry while satisfying the objectives of law enforcement to identify and prosecute terrorists, tax evaders and money launderers, while not disproportionately infringing on the rights of the innocent and law-abiding. It is the BVI’s submission that such models are worth exploring in the meantime,” the Premier said in a statement to the House of Assembly today, September 22.
The Premier stated that there is a legitimate ground for concern that, without appropriate checks and balances, publicly accessible registers could be abused by persons with ill intent, such as kidnappers.
The Premier said while it is a noble objective to seek the prosecution of terrorists, tax evaders and money launderers, the net that will be cast by the currently proposed model of publicly accessible registers, is disproportionate, since it can be used to breach the rights of the law-abiding and tax-paying individuals who are far greater in number than the targeted law-breakers. There needs to be prudence and balance in the systems, he said.
“The innocent could also be deprived of their safety and enjoyment of their legitimate property as they and their families could be exposed, through the publicly accessible registers, to their personal information being easily accessible by persons with ill intent such as kidnappers," the Premier stated.
He added, “The Government of the Virgin Islands is firm of the view that it must also be kept in mind that some of these innocent potential victims are children who are beneficiaries of trusts. Extreme care must also be taken to ensure that minors and other vulnerable categories of persons are not exposed to danger.”
Eight of the UK’s overseas territories have committed to introducing publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership within the next three years, but the UK has singled out the BVI as the only significant financial centre still to do so.
Baroness Sugg, Minister for the Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development, in July expressed, "We hope that the British Virgin Islands will also commit to publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership without delay.’
Sugg has indicated that in line with the Sanctions and Money Laundering Act 2018 the government will prepare a draft Order in Council before the end of 2020, which will be published.
Premier Fahie said the BVI will implement a publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership for companies, “in line with international standards and best practices as they develop globally,” with certain reservations at least, and as implemented by EU Member States, by 2023, in furtherance of the EU fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive.