A U.K. government delegation visited the Cayman Islands last week to promote the virtues of a public central register of beneficial owners of companies and other entities.
Wayne Panton, minister for financial services, told the Finance Committee of the Legislative Assembly that a team from the U.K., which included representatives of the Treasury, customs, the Metropolitan Police and a government advisory group, spent three days in Cayman to meet with the ministry, members of the private sector, the attorney general’s office’s anti-money laundering unit and the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority.
“The net result was that they gained a much better understanding of the issues that are relevant to Cayman and the concerns that we have,” Mr. Panton said. “The purpose was not to resolve issues but to communicate perspectives,” he added.
However, Mr. Panton confirmed that the delegation had come with the clear agenda of promoting the British prime minister’s vision of the importance of a centralized register.
Late last year, Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to create a publicly accessible central registry of information on beneficial ownership in the U.K. and called on other countries to follow suit. However, Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds said during a visit to the Cayman Islands last year that such a move would ultimately be a local decision.
In June, it was announced in the Queen’s Speech that the U.K. government will bring forward legislation to introduce a central public register of beneficial ownership data.
And in March, the European Parliament approved a recommendation from two of its committees to enact legislation that would create public registers listing online the beneficial owners of all European Union companies and trusts. The recommendations go further than what was proposed by the EU Commission and the U.K. government by including the beneficial owners of trusts.
As a result, details of the legislation, which is to be implemented as part of a reform of the 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, still have to be worked out with the EU Commission and the Council of Ministers.
In the Cayman Islands, the Chamber of Commerce and the Law Society have rejected the U.K. proposal of making beneficial owners of Cayman entities public, citing legitimate privacy rights and a lack of universal application as the main hurdles.
The Law Society noted in a detailed analysis of the issue that Cayman is already compliant with international tax and financial information reporting standards.
Minister Panton reiterated Cayman’s commitment to adhere to international standards, provided there is a “level playing field.” But so far there is no international consensus on the matter.
Although the meetings last week enabled the U.K. government to gain a better understanding of Cayman’s position “face to face” rather than from simply studying the provisions of Cayman Law, Mr. Panton doubted it would alter the agenda. “It would be very optimistic to think they would be satisfied and leave us alone on this particular issue,” he said in response to a question by Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush.
“They have not gone away with the feeling the Cayman Islands is OK. They will push the agenda. How far they go, we will see,” he said.
However, stonewalling the U.K. would not be positive for the Cayman Islands, and every opportunity to raise engagement and the level of understanding of the U.K. government would be very useful, he said.