Island to establish a public register
GUERNSEY will establish a public register revealing who ultimately owns companies on the island over a ‘reasonable timeframe’.
Campaign groups and a group of UK MPs led by Margaret Hodge and Andrew Mitchell have been pressing the Crown Dependencies for action, claiming public registers improve tax transparency.
Guernsey has insisted its existing register is effective while signalling the island would move to a public register as that became an international norm – along with Jersey and the Isle of Man.
As part of that strategy, the islands’ governments have today set out how they will move towards that goal when it comes to their beneficial ownership registers. They will also be in Westminster with a programme of engagement.
Public access will be aligned to the approach taken in the European Union’s fifth anti-money laundering directive. The islands’ registers will also be interconnected with those within the EU for access by law enforcement authorities and financial intelligence units. There will also be access for financial services businesses and certain other proscribed businesses for corporate due diligence purposes.
‘We think between the three islands that actually we are in a good position to provide leadership and help to develop that standard,’ said Policy & Resources president Gavin St Pier.
He said Guernsey was publishing a detailed action plan, which would help ‘understanding of our commitments and approach’. It also reinforced the message that it was for Guernsey to determine its own policy position.
The action plan sets out that how work will take place over a ‘reasonable timeframe’. Proposals would be brought before the States within 12 months of a key EU review in 2022 into implementation of public registers in member states.
While some campaign groups wanted ‘further and faster’ action from many jurisdictions, Deputy St Pier said: ‘For us, as I say, it has to be something that is practical and deliverable and is helping to set the global standard and provide that level playing field that is so important to our industry.’
Asked when a public register might be operating in Guernsey, he added: ‘That I don’t know with absolute certainty. What we are saying in this action plan that we are committing to bringing legislative proposals before the States of Deliberation within 12 months of that EU implementation report. We’re making a very clear and public commitment with a very clear timeline against which we can be judged.’
Public access could permitted under ‘similar conditions’ to the EU directive. That could mean public information could include at least the name, the month and year of birth along with the nationality and country of residence of the beneficial owner, plus the nature and extent of the beneficial interest held.
Anyone wishing to access the information might need to register online and pay a fee. Exemptions to access of information could be permitted if the beneficial owner was exposed to ‘disproportionate risk’ - such as kidnapping - or was a child or legally incapable. The right to a review of such exemptions and ‘effective judicial remedy’ could also be offered.