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‘Public registers will not stop criminals using a false name’

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PUBLIC REGISTERS of beneficial ownership are the wrong answers to a good question, a former CEO of Jersey Finance has said.

Geoff Cook.

Geoff Cook, who is now a consultant at Mourant, thought they would violate not secrecy but privacy and that those committing crimes could easily work around a register.

His comments come as MPs continue with a threat to force Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man to introduce public registers, something the islands have resisted on constitutional grounds and until they become a global standard.

‘Somebody laundering won’t mind putting a false name on a register nobody will check,’ said Mr Cook.

He said Europe may be more likely to agree to a register but further afield such as in Asia, where business is often run through families, they would not tolerate such levels of intrusion.

‘That right to privacy is really enshrined in human rights laws,’ he said.

The comments were made as part of a panel discussion chaired by the managing partner of Mourant’s Guernsey office, Advocate Jessica Roland.

The panel included Mr Cook, Policy & Resources president Gavin St Pier and Mourant partner Gordon Dawes.

Deputy St Pier said there were currently 88 cross-party signatories pushing for the introduction of public registers of beneficial ownership of companies in the Channel Islands.

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MPs Margaret Hodge and Andrew Mitchell are leading the campaign.

Guernsey has argued that the UK cannot legislate for the island without its consent on domestic issues.

‘What we need to do is seek to reach out to individual signatories, engage with them and make sure they understand the problems [of the public registers],’ said Deputy St Pier.

Mr Cook said a very effective job had been made of building relationships with the UK government.

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‘It’s probably the best it’s ever been,’ he said.

However, Mr Cook said the problem with the way the UK government works is that it is run by backbenchers.

Therefore speaking directly to signatories is an important way forward.

In a world where social media prevails, the panel also said it was important that Guernsey’s point of view came through.

Deputy St Pier said he had issues with the term Crown Dependency, used to describe Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man collectively.

‘The term dependency implies dependency, that we owe them something and therefore they can pull strings.

‘I think it’s quite important to move away from that. I no longer use the term,’ he said.

Deputy St Pier said the States of Guernsey is also a term with no meaning outside the islands and in the UK may sound like a less significant body. He therefore promotes the States as the Government of Guernsey.

‘The language we use is important,’ he said.

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