Today, all three of the British Crown Dependencies – Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man – took observers by surprise and announced that by the end of 2023 they will have tabled legislation to make their registers of beneficial ownership public, aligning themselves with European standards.
After years of
dragging their heels and using their influence in the UK Parliament to avoid
being forced to implement public registers, the three islands have read the
writing on the wall and for the first time, the real people behind
anonymously-owned companies incorporated in these tax havens will be brought
out of the shadows.
Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are often peeved to be lumped together with the likes of the British Virgin Islands or Cayman, islands which conjure up the stereotypical tax haven image of businessmen stashing cash under palm trees. The Crown Dependencies would prefer to be thought of as far more austere and responsible and they claim to have very rigorous and effective anti-money laundering regimes. But even a quick look at a few of the crooked companies these jurisdictions have incorporated suggests they’re more like their sunnier counterparts than they would have us believe.
The ‘Paradise Papers’ lifted the lid on the kinds of corporate structures and deals made in the British Crown Dependencies which allow lawyers, bankers and other professionals to protect their wealthy and powerful clients' cash from tax officials or hide their dealings behind a veil of secrecy.
It follows that the significance of their pledge should not be underestimated. That they have volunteered to transition to transparency reveals just how far we’ve come in the fight against anonymous companies.
But, (and there’s always a but…), don’t hold your breath - this isn’t a done deal just yet.
The timeframe is long – much longer than European Member States will have to play with – and the national action plans they’ve drafted are replete with get-out clauses and there is no detail yet on how the registers will be made public. Moreover, they have given themselves plenty of room to manoeuvre over the next four-plus years by setting out how they will continue to abide by ‘global best practice’ and pay heed to international standards.
So, whilst we’re pleased that the UK’s Crown Dependencies have today voluntarily made this important pledge – and thrilled that years of campaigning by civil society and Parliamentarians, is taking effect – we’ll only truly celebrate when Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man have open, structured, and free-to-access registers of beneficial ownership up and running.