Withers appointed by BVI Government to advise on public register challenge

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International law firm Withers has been engaged by the government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to advise on a legal challenge to any attempt by the United Kingdom to impose a public register of beneficial ownership.

BVI premier, Orlando Smith, has said that his government is reviewing its constitution and will be considering necessary changes to reinforce the self-determination of the British Virgin Islands as an overseas territory.

According to local news reports, almost 5,000 residents took the streets in downtown Tortola late last month to protest the UK’s decision to force its overseas territories to make their ownership registers public. Many in the BVI fear there is a very real risk of derailing the territory’s economy, which is heavily reliant on company formation, and which is still recovering from the devastation experienced in the 2017 hurricane season.

The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act received Royal Assent on 23 May 2018 and contains a provision which purports to mandate the imposition of publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership of companies registered in British Overseas Territories (including the BVI) by 31 December 2020. The parliamentary vote caused an outcry around the world.

Withers is advising the BVI Government alongside leading counsel professor Dan Sarooshi QC of Essex Court Chambers and the University of Oxford and eminent BVI constitutional lawyer Gerard Farara QC.

Hussein Haeri, partner and head of Withers’ Public International Law team, said: “We are confident that there are constitutional grounds for challenging the imposition on the BVI 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.”

Withers partners representing the BVI Government are Hussein Haeri and Philip Munro in London and Niki Olympitis in the BVI.

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Christopher Copper-Ind

Christopher Copper-Ind is editor-in-chief of International Investment. Before this, he was editorial director of The Business Year, from 2014 to 2017.