Press release | Sept. 30, 2020

Huge win for anti-corruption campaigners as BVI pledges company ownership transparency

30th September 2020, London - The British Virgin Islands has committed to make information on the people who own and control companies in the tax haven public by 2023, a major step forward in the fight against the UK’s tax havens being used in global money laundering [1]. This means that all of the UK’s Overseas Territories with significant financial centres [2], as well as its Crown Dependencies, have now committed to create public registers of the beneficial owners of companies.

“This is a hugely important announcement from the British Virgin Islands given that the jurisdiction is one of the most popular places in the world for the criminal and corrupt to incorporate companies. Every time that there’s a global expose on illicit finance, the BVI’s name comes up. The recent leak of files from FinCEN showed that at least 20% of the occasions when banks in the US raised suspicions of money laundering involved BVI companies, and half the companies exposed by the Panama Papers were registered there” said Ava Lee, Anti-Corruption Campaign Leader at Global Witness.

“This is a significant win for anti-corruption campaigners and we welcome the government of the British Virgin Islands in making this commitment to openness. It’s now vital that the government, along with all the other Overseas Territories implement the registers on time, with information in an open data format that is free for all to access.”

In 2018, the UK passed legislation, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, that required the UK government to require the Overseas Territories, by 31 December 2020, to introduce public beneficial ownership registers if they hadn’t already done so.

Global Witness has been campaigning for beneficial ownership transparency for the last decade, during which time we’ve seen new legislation in the UK and EU amongst others.The global move towards transparency continues with the United States now looking more and more isolated. 



Notes to editor:

[1] The statement from the BVI Premier on 22 September 2020 states that they will work in with the UK government “towards a publicly accessible register”, “subject to our reservations which include that the format must be in line with international standards and best practices as they develop globally and, at least, as implemented by EU Member States”. However, subsequent statements by UK and BVI government representatives demonstrate that the BVI has made a commitment to introduce the transparency measure. In particular:

  • Baroness Suggs, the Minister for Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office tweeted that BVI government has announced it is “committing to adopt publicly accessible registers of business owners by 2023”.
  • The British Virgin Islands London Office, the equivalent of the BVI’s UK embassy, retweeted Baroness Suggs’ statement above.
  • The British Virgin Islands’ Governor's Office tweeted that the BVI premier made a “commitment to introduce a publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership by 2023”.

[2] There are seven Overseas Territories with significant financial centres. Gibraltar, by virtue of its membership of the EU at the time, is required to set up a public register of company beneficial ownership under the EU’s 5th anti-money laundering directive. Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman, Montserrat and Turks & Caicos have all previously committed to introducing public registers by 2023.

Preview image credit: undercrimson/istockphoto

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