Leaders of Britain’s 14 Overseas Territories, including Cayman, agreed to consider establishing public registries listing the beneficial owners of trusts and companies following a summit in London.
In a communique published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office following the Joint Ministerial Council meeting, the leaders pledged to hold consultations “on the question of establishing a central registry of beneficial ownership, and whether this information should be publicly available.”
Earlier this month, British Prime Minister David Cameron revealed plans for a similar central public registry in the U.K.
He said, “For too long, a small minority have hidden their business dealings behind a complicated web of shell companies – and this cloak of secrecy has fuelled all manners of questionable practice.”
Now he is urging Britain’s territories to do the same. So far, the territories have stopped short of endorsing the plan amid concern that such requirements would need to be imposed globally to maintain a level playing field.
But all have agreed to ensure the collection of company ownership information.
“We reiterate our commitment to creating a fair, responsible and effectively regulated global business environment,” the 14 leaders said in a statement.
“Tackling tax evasion and fraud is a global responsibility in which the UK and the territories will continue to play a full part.”
In the U.K., the Confederation of British Industry, welcomed plans for a beneficial ownership registry but warned it needed to be a global initiative to be truly effective.
Director Katja Hall told trade publication, Accountancy Age, “The real prize is the ability to track ownership information around the world. Now that the U.K. has chosen to make this a public register, ensuring that others follow our lead will be critical to its success and to maintaining a level playing field.”
“We reiterate our commitment to creating a fair, responsible and effectively regulated global business environment,” said the statement. “Tackling tax evasion and fraud is a global responsibility in which the U.K. and the territories will continue to play a full part.”
Objectives for immigration, independence and crime were also discussed during the summit in London.
In the statement, the 14 leaders described nationality and immigration as “difficult and sensitive issues,” and noted: “International talent can help grow economies and create local employment. But at the same time, we must control immigration to protect our interests. Territory governments therefore aim to simplify and improve immigration law and policy, and to enforce this efficiently and effectively.”
On the topic of independence from Britain, the leaders stressed: “The right of self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter. We believe that the people of all Overseas Territories have a right to determine their own futures, to decide on the path they wish to take and to maintain freely their constitutional link with the U.K. if that is their choice.”
Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that leaders of Bermuda and Cayman had also committed to supporting joint initiatives with the U.K. in relation to crime investigation and prevention, prison reform and protecting vulnerable witnesses.
In their communique, the 14 leaders said they were “delighted to have agreed a memorandum of understanding on reciprocal law enforcement assistance. It provides a framework for territories to seek temporary support from each other at times of heightened need.”
Mark Simmonds, the U.K. Foreign Office Minister for Overseas Territories, said: “There was a real sense of progress towards our shared ambition for the territories as vibrant and flourishing communities. We are working together to support economic growth and job creation and to demonstrate that the territories are among the best places in the world to do business.”
Cayman Premier Alden McLaughlin hosted a dinner for “friends of Cayman” during the summit.
He briefed diners on the Shetty Hospital project and Cayman Enterprise City, and outlined the economic goals of his government.
“Our strategy is to foster an environment that facilitates private sector growth, employ prudent fiscal management within the public sector, further develop an educated and work-ready populace and continue the development and modernisation of Cayman’s infrastructure,” he said.