FBI praises island in fight against financial crime

THE FBI has highlighted to American senators the ‘immense value’ of Guernsey’s information sharing in helping combat financial crime.

A FBI official has praised Guernsey for its help in tackling financial crime. (24923165)
A FBI official has praised Guernsey for its help in tackling financial crime. (24923165)

Steven M. D’Antuono, a deputy assistant director at the FBI, said information exchange agreements with the Crown Dependencies were an example of how to fight financial crime when he appeared before a US Senate committee looking at the issue.

The agreements, which came into operation in 2017, relate to the sharing of beneficial ownership, which sets out who is the ultimate owner of companies. Last month, research was published that found that information on Guernsey’s register of beneficial ownership was 100% verified.

P&R president Gavin St Pier said it was ‘no surprise’ that the FBI had cited the value of the arrangements, which were delivering the widely-held objective of fighting financial crime.

Mr D’Antuono drew on the experiences of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man when he appeared before a hearing held by the US Senate Committee on Banking into ‘combating illicit financing by anonymous shell companies through the collection of beneficial ownership information’.

Exploring the issues, he told the committee that a ‘significant’ number of challenges could be mitigated by requiring legal entities to disclose beneficial ownership information – and by creating a central repository of that information available to law enforcement and regulators.

‘The United Kingdom has enacted perhaps the most robust beneficial ownership legislation to date,’ said Mr D’Antuono. ‘The UK has registers of beneficial ownership for three different types of assets – companies, real property, and trusts. Information on the beneficial ownership of companies is publicly available.

‘For property owned by overseas companies and legal entities, the public beneficial ownership database is set to launch by 2021. The register for trusts is not public, but is available to law enforcement.’

He added: ‘In July 2017, bilateral agreements between the UK and the Crown Dependences and Overseas Territories related to the sharing of beneficial ownership information went into effect. These Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories include the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and many others.

‘Under the terms of these agreements, UK law enforcement has access to company beneficial ownership information in support of investigations. This information must be made available within 24 hours of a request.

‘Our colleagues at the UK’s National Crime Agency have continually noted the immense value of such information in their investigations.’

Mr D’Antuono, who works in the FBI’s criminal investigative division, also highlighted European Union activity around beneficial ownership.

He said EU member states had a January 2020 deadline to introduce central registers that ‘requires public access to data on the beneficial owners of most legal entities, with the exception of trusts’.

Access to data on the beneficial owners of trusts would be accessible without any restrictions to authorities, financial intelligence units, banks and other professional sectors subject to anti-money laundering rules. Other persons able to ‘demonstrate a legitimate interest in the trust data’ would also be able to access it.

The FBI official added: ‘These frameworks can provide valuable insight into the critical aspects of a successful system for maintaining, accessing, and sharing accurate beneficial ownership information.’

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