The Government of the Virgin Islands was successful in getting recognition of the Territory’s ‘largely compliant rating’ by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Global Forum, and agreement by the United Kingdom to restate that it is not appropriate for the Overseas Territories (OT) to be labelled ‘tax havens’.
In a statement delivered during the First Sitting of the Fifth House of Assembly on Monday, December 21, Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. the Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE provided an update on the Beneficial Ownership Registry and stated, “The crux of the beneficial ownership issue is to ensure that we know who beneficially own BVI companies and have the ability to share that information with competent authorities and law enforcement authorities in a timely manner, if and when the need arises.”
He said that the Territory’s relevant Anti Money Laundering/ Countering of the Financing of Terrorism legislation have already been amended to require beneficial ownership information to be held in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) from 2016 onward. The next stage in the development of the British Virgin Islands’ successful Corporate Service Provider model will be the design – in full consultation with the financial services industry – of a technology based solution that would ensure the timely access and sharing of beneficial ownership information held by Trust and Company Service Providers (TCSPs).
This step is consistent with the BVI’s record – under successive governments - of keeping pace with evolving standards and thereby ensuring that the Territory’s regime remains effective. An effective regime is necessary both to attract legitimate business and combat those who may seek to use BVI companies for nefarious purposes.
Premier Smith added that in bilateral meetings with Her Majesty’s Government, UK, he reiterated to the Overseas Territories Minister, Mr. James Duddridge, that the BVI’s TCSP model entails a beneficial ownership regime that has been successful over the years. Minister Duddridge has agreed with the position of the Government of the Virgin Islands that there are other systems beside central registers that provide an effective beneficial ownership regime.
While in London, Premier Smith also met officials from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and discussed the complex transnational challenges facing UK and OT law enforcement agencies as they seek to tackle cross-border financial crime.
During the discussions, it was agreed that further technical discussions were important to identify how respective law enforcement agencies can build upon their current good working relationship and legal framework, for cooperation to strengthen their abilities to combat international issues such as terrorist financing, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption.
The Honourable Premier noted that the BVI’s leadership in the lead-up to the Joint Ministerial Council and throughout the meeting was essential to a positive outcome on the beneficial ownership issue. The Territory played a decisive role in shaping the financial services dimension of the JMC Communiqué, both bilaterally and as the Chair of the UKOTA Subcommittee on Financial Services.
The Communiqué’s text on beneficial ownership reflects the BVI position on similarly effective systems for handling beneficial ownership information. The Communiqué also reflects the BVI’s view that international cooperation between law enforcement agencies in different jurisdictions is important to combating financial crime.