BOTs in showdown talks over beneficial ownership register row

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Leaders of British overseas territories are in the process of two days of showdown talks with UK parliamentary officials in an attempt to try and reverse the UK government’s decision to end impose  public registers of share ownership.

As reported, a vote by MPs at the beginning of May to impose public registers of share ownership in all of the BOTs has triggered reports of resistance in many of the BOTs including protests, legal action and threats to demand constitutional separation.

More than 1,000 people were reported to have marched in the BVI to protest against the enforced law changes.

The territories, which include the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands, are worried that the enforcement of an end to tax secrecy will seriously damage the financial services industries in the regions and force investors to consider moving their investments elsewhere.

Some also claim the recent UK House of Commons vote infringes the constitutional right of the islands to oversee their own domestic legislation.

The amendment to the sanctions and anti-money laundering bill to require BOTs to set up public registers of beneficial ownership by the end of 2020, was brought in at the end of last month.

Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative MP who has been pushing for the change said on Tuesday: “The overseas territories share our queen, they travel under our flag and they must also share our values.”

Isle of Man request
According to local newspaper The Isle of Man Today Mitchell alongside the former chair of the public accounts committee Labour MP Margaret Hodge, will be visiting the island to speak to the Isle of Man government in a bid to get them onside to accept the same regime as the BOTs.

“We would hope to persuade the Isle of Man authorities that it is a good idea,” Mitchell, pictured left, said.

The BVI delegation to London, is being led by its pro-independence deputy premier, Dr Kedrick Pickering and has hired the law firm Withers to prepare a legal challenge on the basis that the UK parliament has overreached itself.

Hussein Haeri, partner and head of Withers’ public international law team, told The Guardian that the BVI is “confident” that there are constitutional grounds for challenging the imposition of a public register of the beneficial ownership of companies and human rights issues raised by public access to the register.

“The BVI’s consistent position is that it will not introduce public registers unless and until they become a global standard,” he said.

Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands is also considering whether to join the action or to instruct a different firm of lawyers. Its premier, Alden McLaughlin, said he would try to change the islands’ constitutional relationship with the UK, describing the Commons vote as “reminiscent of the worst injustices of a bygone era of colonial despotism”, The Guardian said.

He added: “We want to remove that ability for the UK to be able to randomly legislate for us.”

“This matter extends well beyond the issue of beneficial ownership registers or the broader financial services sector.

“If the UK feels emboldened by what it has just done and believes it can do it any time it doesn’t like something here or it wants to impose something on us, it is not just the financial services industry at risk but our very existence,” he told The Guardian. 

The ongoing meetings with various UK ministers this week are also due to discuss the consequences of Brexit for the territories, as well s other matters such as UK government aid to relieve the impact of last year’s hurricanes.

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Gary Robinson

Commercial Director, Head of Video at International Investment.