Britain’s remaining overseas territories in the Caribbean, including the Cayman Islands, appear to be in a holding pattern regarding the mother country’s suggestion that a public registry of beneficial company and fund ownership in those countries be established.
The topic was one of the major areas of discussion last week in a meeting of overseas territories leaders held in Grand Cayman prior to the annual Joint Ministerial Council meeting scheduled for December in London.
Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said that while some overseas territories are at less advanced stages in the financial services industries and in negotiations with the U.K. over the public registry, most appear to be content to follow the lead of the G20 countries on the issue.
In late 2013, U.K. 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.
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.
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.
Cayman does have legislation requiring the maintenance of a beneficial ownership registration for entities, but that register is not public and often court action is necessary in order to retrieve it.
“We adhere to what are truly global standards with regard to these issues,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “At present, the U.K. lags behind.”
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who attended last week’s meeting in Grand Cayman, noted that most of the territories with substantial interests in the financial services and international business arenas are keeping tabs on such information for the purposes of combating tax evasion and money laundering.
“This is almost exclusive to the overseas territories and demonstrates how we have led in this field,” Mr. Picardo said. “[It’s] something that is not popular to recite in the international media.”
Mr. Picardo said Gibraltar has some reservations about a move to a beneficial ownership register that would be open to the general public, and that this is not an issue territories should seek to rush into.
“It’s not to share with anybody who might be curious,” he said. “It’s to ensure justice will be done in cases where it needs to be done.”
Anguilla Premier Hubert Hughes warned Cayman, Gibraltar and the British Virgin Islands not to agree to the demands for a public registry from the U.K.
“It will spell doom to your economies which rely very heavily on the financial services sector,” he said.
Commenting on the issue last month, Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton said Cayman will adhere to international standards, provided there is a “level playing field.”
Mr. Panton and other members of Cayman’s financial services industry met with U.K. officials in June to discuss the beneficial ownership issue, but Mr. Panton said he doubted it would alter the U.K.’s agenda.
“It would be very optimistic to think they would be satisfied and leave us alone on this particular issue,” he said.