Thursday 27 October 2016 The British Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos Islands have agreed to create central but still secret registers of who owns the myriad companies they host. Christian Aid says the moves are welcome but only a start in fighting global corruption and tax evasion.
The UK tax havens’ moves were unexpectedly revealed on Tuesday by Home Office Minister of State Brandon Lewis, during a House of Commons debate on the Criminal Finance Bill.
The BVI and TCI concessions come in advance of next week’s annual meeting in London between the UK government and the people who run the UK’s Overseas Territories.
But Simon Kirkland, Parliamentary and Political Adviser at Christian Aid, said the new moves by the BVI and TCI did not go far enough.
“For years the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands have moved as slowly as possible in cleaning up their notoriously shady and secretive operations,” he said.
“Under pressure from the UK, they have finally conceded the bare minimum of openness to UK law enforcers. However, this is still a far cry from an acceptable level of transparency.
“Until all UK tax havens publish their registers of who owns the hundreds of thousands of companies they host, criminals can rest easy,” he warned. “It remains far too simple to hide dirty money in UK tax havens, with devastating consequences for people living in poverty around the world.
“Without public registers, the vast majority of police officers, tax authorities, journalists, Parliamentarians and citizens will never know who is hiding behind shell companies in places like the British Virgin Islands.”
During Tuesday afternoon’s Commons debate on the Criminal Finances Bill, the majority of speakers, from a range of different parties, demanded that UK tax havens are as transparent about companies’ real owners as the UK mainland.
Mr Kirkland added: “On Tuesday, MPs were lining up to blast the Government for failing to do enough to clean up the Overseas Territories. All MPs who spoke supported the Criminal Finances Bill but most called for it to go further in order effectively to tackle corruption, money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist financing around the world.”
“As many MPs said, the Government should set a timeline for when UK tax havens will publish their registers of who owns companies registered on their shores. This is the most effective way for the Government to tackle corruption.
Minister Brandon Lewis made his announcement about the BVI and TCI at the end of yesterday’s Commons debate. He said: “In response to comments about the overseas territories and Crown dependencies, I am pleased to announce that the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands have just—conveniently, as I am here at the Dispatch Box this afternoon—committed themselves to the initiative on beneficial ownership, which many hon. Members have spoken about today.
“All the overseas territories have now agreed to have central registries, which will be accessible to law enforcement authorities. We will continue to push for all countries to introduce public registers. This is good news, and we will continue to work on it.”
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Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid is a member of ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development.
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5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, see here.