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UK government vote for transparency

Wednesday 02 May 2018

Earlier this week, the Government agreed to push UK’s Overseas Territories to publish public registers of the real owners of their companies.

In a major win for financial transparency campaigners, the UK government committed to create a new register for overseas companies where Britain’s overseas territories will have to make public the real owners of all their registered companies. 

The move saw several Conservative MPs team up with Labour to back the register of beneficial ownership, which once in place will mean that overseas companies will not be able to buy property in the UK, or secure UK government contracts, without submitting the necessary beneficial ownership information.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated that money laundering globally represents between two and five per cent of gross domestic product, and last year's Panama Papers revealed that more than half of the companies named in the papers were registered in the UK’s Overseas Territories.

These territories, which include the likes of the Cayman Islands and Gibraltar, will be forced to comply with the UK Parliament directive after the Government’s money-laundering bill was amended unopposed, and have been given until 2020 to transition.

However an attempt to include Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man was dropped after senior politicians from both islands, including both Chief Ministers, met ahead of the debate, to make sure the islands' constitutional relationship were 'well understood'. Whilst the CEO of Jersey Finance Geoff Cook aligned with the UK in terms of their commitment to combat money laundering and financial crime, Guernsey's Chief Minister, Gavin St Pier cemented the Channel Islands' long established position that the UK does not legislate for them without their consent.

The news was welcomed by anti-corruption campaigners however, who viewed it as a seminal moment. Speaking to the BBC's Daily Politics Show on Tuesday, Dame Margaret Hodge, who has long campaigned for anti-money laundering measures, welcomed the move by the Government to bear down on corruption, advocating that transparency on laundering is "morally right".

Duncan Hames of Transparency International UK commented: “These jurisdictions have long been the Achilles heel of our defences against dirty money. The agreement represents a hugely significant moment in the fight against corruption, not just in the UK but around the world.”

Anti-corruption campaigner for Global Witness, Naomi Hirst, said: “The announcement is a huge win in the fight against corruption, tax dodging and money laundering. The UK’s tax havens have featured in countless corruption and money laundering cases – ending their corporate secrecy will throw a huge spanner in the works of corrupt dictators, tax evaders and organised criminals.

“This is the result of years of dogged campaigning by MPs, investigative journalists and a coalition of anti-corruption and anti-poverty campaigners from around the world. This now raises the stakes for the remaining jurisdictions which are happy to sell secrecy – it is now only a matter of time until anonymous companies are a thing of the past.”

So far four overseas territories have set up registers of beneficial ownership, but the information is currently only available on request to British law-enforcement agencies.