December 3 2015 - The Government has failed to persuade the UK’s Overseas Territories to meet its own low bar for financial reform following a two-day ministerial meeting in London, which ended without a breakthrough in tackling tax haven secrecy. This augurs badly, says Christian Aid, for Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to hold an anti-corruption summit early in the New Year.
Key issue at the talks was the way in which the Overseas Territories, mainly based in the Caribbean, allow the real or beneficial owners, of companies registered offshore to hide their identities. As a result, such companies are sometimes used as vehicles for tax evasion, corruption, and money laundering.
Little progress was made at the Joint Ministerial Council in London, however, in regard to introducing public registers of ownership that would make it more difficult for criminality to thrive.
Joseph Stead, Christian Aid’s Senior Economic Justice Adviser, said today: “The Government has made a number of statements about what it expected the Overseas Territories to have delivered by now, but it looks increasingly clear that these were expressions of hope rather than expectation.
“All the Overseas Territories with financial centres were expected to have produced timetables for implementation of central registers (or similar) of company owners, but it is clear these have not been forthcoming.
“The Government also set three criteria that they expected all Overseas Territories corporate ownership transparency regimes to meet, but once again we see no evidence that these have been agreed.”
Whilst over the last two years the UK has passed legislation to provide for a public register of the owners of companies, and the EU will require central registers with a minimum degree of public access, the Overseas Territories have made very little progress, with only Montserrat and Gibraltar announcing any significant changes.
Montserrat will implement a public register, but with a fee for access, while Gibraltar, as an EU member, will implement the EU standard.
“We welcome the clear commitments that both Montserrat and Gibraltar have made and we hope that the other Overseas Territories will match them as quickly as possible,” said Mr Stead.
“The commitments made in the joint ministerial conference have been seen by some as a step forward, but in truth we’ve been here before. Two years ago all the Overseas Territories committed to public consultations on creating public registers of beneficial ownership, but only two of those consultations have actually been completed.
"With the Prime Minister looking to hold an international anti-corruption summit in the UK next year, it’s vital that we show leadership in our constitutional backyard first if we are going to expect other countries to join the UK in tackling illicit finance flows. Commitments from the Overseas Territories need to be stronger, and they need to be implemented.”
Joint Ministerial Council Communique - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/481961/Overseas_Territories_Joint_Ministerial_Council_2015_Communique.pdf
Joint report by Christian Aid, Global Witness, Tax Justice Network, Transparency International UK on corporate transparency in the overseas territories
Joint NGO letter to Prime Minister on beneficial ownership http://www.transparency.org.uk/publications/public-letter-to-david-cameron-on-beneficial-ownership/
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Notes to editors:
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