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Government must avoid 4 year wait for transparency in British Overseas Territories

21st February 2019, London – The Government must act on a call by MPs to set out a clear and detailed timetable for the introduction of public registers of who owns companies based in the British Overseas Territories, amid concerns that closed door meetings between Government and leaders of the Overseas Territories have influenced the timetable set for the implementation of these registers.

In May last year an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money laundering Bill was passed calling on the Overseas Territories to introduce public registers by the end of 2020, or face orders of council for their introduction. Following closed meetings between Government and leaders of the Overseas Territories in December the Government announced that public registers may not come into effect until the end of 2023 – meaning the OT’s will not be bringing them in off their own back before 2021.  The Government has yet to publish a joint communique from the December meetings, despite it being usual practice to do so within days of the close of the Joint Ministerial Council.

Publishing the findings of its inquiry into the relationship between the UK and the Overseas Territories, to which Transparency International UK submitted evidence,  the Foreign Affairs Select Committee describes as “not acceptable” that public registers may not be published before 2023, saying “We cannot wait until public registers are a global norm and we cannot let considerations of competitiveness prevent us from taking action now. The lowest common denominator is not enough.”

Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, said:

“At the heart of most serious corruption and money laundering cases are anonymous companies whose real owners are hidden from scrutiny by lawyers, accountants and rogue professionals. The secrecy made possible in the British Overseas Territories has been key to criminals across the world enjoying impunity for their actions. It does nothing to aid the reputation of financial centres to provide services and secrecy that enrich a corrupt global elite at the public’s expense.”

“It’s welcome news that a key parliamentary select committee has underlined the important role public registers of beneficial ownership can play in ending the UK – and it’s Overseas Territories – role in facilitating global corruption. We described the action parliament took last year as a giant leap forward and it’s positive to note that MPs are continuing to hold the Government to account on its obligations, particularly in the face of fierce lobbying by the Overseas Territories against transparency.” 

“We support the call of MPs to set out a clear and detailed timetable for the introduction of public registers in the British Overseas Territories and hope that the Government will actively look for solutions to ensure public registers of beneficial ownership are introduced by the UK’s Overseas Territories as soon as possible. Every day that passes without the transparency brought by public registers is another day where corrupt individuals can hide and move wealth they have stolen.” 

Recent analysis by TI-UK found 237 global economic crime cases – worth £250 billion – were enabled by 1,107 companies based in the British Overseas Territories. An analysis of the £4.4 billion worth of UK property we have found to be bought with suspicious wealth also shows three fifths is owned by companies based in these jurisdictions.

***ENDS***

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Read 157 times Last modified on Thursday, 21 February 2019 16:19

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