Though a similar measure in the U.K. House of Lords was recently voted down, British MPs are expected to try again – perhaps as early as February – to force overseas territories to enact a public company registry that lists the beneficial owners of those entities.
Cayman already has such a register, which is made available to certain tax authorities and law enforcement officials upon request, but it is not open to the general public.
The debate in the House of Lords earlier this month on a proposed anti-money laundering bill saw the attempted insertion of an amendment that sought to require the U.K. Overseas Territories minister – at present, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon – to issue an “order-in council” forcing all U.K. territories to implement a publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership of companies. The amendment was rejected by a relatively narrow vote of parliament’s upper house.
“The Anti-Money Laundering and Sanctions Bill will now go to the House of Commons, likely after the February recess,” said Eric Bush, director of the Cayman Islands London Office. “It can reasonably be expected that [MPs] will file a similar amendment.
“Then again, they were expecting to win the vote in the House of Lords, but through active engagement and providing meaningful and factual information, over 20 crossbenchers [independent or minor party members] voted in our favor.”
The amendment in the House of Lords was the second attempt within a year to force the public registry issue, Mr. Bush said. He said it appeared to be an attempt to single out the U.K.’s Caribbean territories, while not affecting Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man.
“Margaret Hodge [Labour MP for Barking] tried to have a similar amendment added to the Criminal Finance Bill in April 2017,” Mr. Bush said. “She eventually withdrew the amendment, understanding that it would have been defeated.”
With parliament debating the anti-money laundering bill, MPs in the Commons have the ability to introduce another amendment.
“However, the government does have the majority [of members] to defeat it,” Mr. Bush said.
Cayman’s various laws related to the creation and operation of the beneficial ownership registry took effect July 1, 2017.
The register provides a secure mechanism for sharing beneficial ownership information on Cayman’s exempt [non-locally operating], limited liability, and non-resident companies with the U.K. Beneficial ownership information on locally licensed small businesses is also collected. It is not known how many Cayman-registered companies have signed on to the platform at present.
For security reasons, the registry is hosted offline. The system requires financial services providers to maintain their own beneficial ownership registers and upload the information once a month to an encrypted flash drive, which has to physically be taken to the Government Administration Building.
Since the initial inception of the beneficial ownership of companies registry, Premier Alden McLaughlin’s Progressives-led administration has opposed the public listing of beneficial owners, although it has not objected to the creation of the register itself.