Madam Speaker, I would like to provide this Honourable House with an update on the issue of beneficial ownership, which is of great importance to our financial services industry and wider economy.
As I told this Honourable House during the last sitting on 2 November, 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.
Our relevant AML/CFT 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 our 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).
Madam Speaker, this step is consistent with the BVI’s record – under successive governments - of keeping pace with evolving standards and thereby ensuring that our 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.
The BVI will continue to ensure that our approach to regulation is right for the BVI and right for safeguarding the integrity of the international financial system of which we are an integral part and complies with internationally established standards.
Madam Speaker, Members will recall that I recently travelled to London where I attended both the annual Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) and the UK Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA) Political Council. There I met with United Kingdom (UK) Government Ministers and also other Overseas Territories (OTs) Leaders with whom I discussed economic issues, including issues revolving around financial services and beneficial ownership, as well as other matters.
In bilateral meetings with the UK Government, I 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. I am pleased that he and the UK Government agreed with my position that there are other systems beside central registers that provide an effective beneficial ownership regime.
While in London I also met officials from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Serious Fraud office (SFO) with whom I discussed the complex transnational challenges facing UK and OT law enforcement agencies as they seek to tackle cross-border financial crime. We agreed that further technical discussions were important to identify how our respective law enforcement agencies can build upon their current good working relationship and legal framework for cooperation to strengthen our ability to combat international issues such as terrorist financing, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption.
Madam Speaker, the BVI’s leadership in the lead up to the JMC and throughout the meeting was essential to a positive outcome on the beneficial ownership issue. BVI played a decisive role in shaping the financial services dimension of the JMC Communique, both bilaterally and as the Chair of the UKOTA Subcommittee on Financial Services.
The Communique’s text on beneficial ownership reflects the BVI position on similarly effective systems for handling beneficial ownership information. The Communique also reflects the BVI view that international cooperation between law enforcement agencies in different jurisdictions is important to combating financial crime.
We were also successful in getting recognition of the BVI’s ‘largely compliant rating’ by the OECD Global Forum, as well as agreement by the UK to restate that it is not appropriate for the Overseas Territories to be labelled “tax havens”.
Madam Speaker, these beneficial outcomes are the result of months of hard work, dedication and commitment over the past year by all of the officials and key partners involved. I commend them for their service to the Territory.
While the international challenges we face in the financial services sector are far from over, I want to reassure this Honourable House and the people of these Virgin Islands that my Government will continue to do everything in our power to safeguard our financial services industry and to ensure that as a jurisdiction we remain a competitive, highly reputable and internationally respected international finance centre.
I will continue to keep this Honourable House updated on material issues relating to and affecting our financial services industry and other related matters as they arise and whenever necessary.
I thank you Madam Speaker.