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Crossing the line

Horace Camp | Published:

SINCE the Dawn of Time men (usually men) have drawn lines in the sand and dared their opponents to step over them. Our own Deputy Le Tocq, a known lover of peace, has this week drawn a line which he has publicly stated he is defending ‘civilly and vehemently’ as a Guernseyman.

Crossing the line.

He doesn’t make clear what he will do if the line is crossed but the message coming out of our government leadership team is that we will not be put upon by Westminster. This Donkey has teeth and knows how to bite?

Others in other places and at other times have made such bold statements. The words uttered by the line-drawers usually distil down to: ‘We feel that our cause is just, we seek no conquest. All we ask is to be left alone.’

I’m sure many of you reading this will agree with that sentiment out of principle. But what if I tell you that the words were uttered by Jefferson Davis, first and last President of the Confederate States of America, and that his just cause was to preserve the right to keep slaves?

It follows that both the line crossing and the reason the line was deemed to be crossed must be considered together when deciding if it was a good or bad thing to do. Yes, it could be argued that the Southern States of America were justified in their outrage that States’ rights were being ignored by the Union. But how many of us are prepared to support their decision given the reason for crossing the line?

There is no doubt that the line will be crossed if the Hodge/Mitchell amendment to force us to adopt an open register of beneficial ownership succeeds. No doubt in our mind because we believe the register is a domestic issue and Westminster cannot legislate in respect of our domestic issues.

However, some in Westminster believe it isn’t a domestic issue and no line is being crossed.

I’m with Deputy Le Tocq on this one, at least as regards the line-in-the-sand argument. A big boy is kicking sand in our face and we either run away and hide or we take him on toe to toe.

However the just-cause argument isn’t so clear cut. If a big boy kicks sand in another’s eye to get him to let his slave go free, then I can only cheer him on.

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The cause is as important as the constitutional affront.

Let’s examine the cause. Hodge/Mitchell believe an open register of beneficial ownership, like the UK’s, will help the international fight against money laundering, tax evasion and the funding of terrorists. Very worthwhile reasons, if true.

Money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist funding carried out within the UK by any measure will vastly exceed any that may be happening here. How successful will the UK’s open register be in fighting such evils?

Firstly, let me tell you that none of the information in that register is verified, nor is any party making the declarations regulated in any way.

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Imagine you are using a UK vehicle to channel criminal funds to your favourite terrorist group. Would you inform the register that ISIS is the ultimate beneficial owner, via you, of the entity?

Brilliant if that was how it worked and imagine the smiling face of the journalist poring over the records upon finding ISIS listed as a beneficial owner.

In your dreams.

The UK open register is as useful as the landing cards given out on planes entering the USA which ask you to self-declare if you are a terrorist.

Our own register is populated by regulated financial businesses which comply with anti money laundering and terrorist financing rules that makes the UK ones seem like a Heath Robinson contraption. Our register is real and contains real information which is regularly updated. And we will share that information with any official body that has a reason to ask for it.

So why not make it open?

Because it will make us uncompetitive in the market and will cost us money and jobs. Privacy isn’t a crime, nor is it immoral. If I legitimately have money offshore and I don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry to know, then I’m not going to put money into a jurisdiction with an open register which most other jurisdictions don’t have.

We could possibly downgrade our regulations and adopt a free and easy register like the UK’s to remain competitive, but then we would attract the bad people who currently hide their cash in dodgy places. That’s not our client base.

No, we are in the right space now. Money coming in here is properly checked and ownership verified. Our clients may grumble about our over-zealousness in compliance, but they live with that because we are a well regulated safe haven. They know they can’t hide from the authorities, but they do know they are out of the gaze of sleaze-bag journalists and criminals who like to sniff out rich targets.

Remove the privacy and open their information to Daily Mail reporters and, quite rightly, they will want to move their money somewhere which respects it.

When the day comes that all good jurisdictions have open registers, then I’m sure we will step up to the plate and open ours. Level playing fields are all we ask for.

Is our cause just? Yes it is. We run a finance industry here and privacy from ‘stalkers’ is a big part of the reason we do so well. That industry supports our economy and pays for schools and hospitals. We must protect it. And all we are fighting for is fairness, a level playing field.

Deputy St Pier, our champion, is no Jefferson Davis supporting an evil cause. He quite rightly has suggested that if Westminster truly wants to make a difference, it should scrap its Mickey Mouse (not his words) system and adopt ours and he has offered our help to make it so.

The line is drawn and it shall not be crossed. Dieu Aix!

Helen Hubert

By Helen Hubert
author

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