Nicola Sharp of financial crime specialists Rahman Ravelli sees this as a necessary step to improving the Islands’ unfavourable reputation.
The UK government has welcomed the British Virgin Islands’ commitment to creating a publicly-accessible register of company ownership by 2023.
The move by the British Virgin Islands (BVI) sees it following a number of UK overseas territories in stating it will produce a public ownership register.
Baroness Sugg, the Foreign Office minister, said that the BVI’s move was “a strong signal of the UK family’s commitment to tackle the global problem of illicit finance”. The decision was celebrated by anti-corruption campaigners, who have highlighted how the BVI has featured in numerous financial scandals.
The BVI appears in the recently-leaked US data known as the FinCEN Files, which highlighted the lack of efforts by many institutions to tackle money laundering. The 2016 Panama Papers leak of huge amounts of information from the law firm Mossack Fonseca showed that more than half the offshore companies mentioned in its files had been incorporated in the BVI. Zamira Hajiyeva - the subject of the UK’s first unexplained wealth order and wife of the jailed former head of the International Bank of Azerbaijan - was shown to have bought her £11.5M London home through a BVI-registered company.
For many, the BVI has been the go-to jurisdiction for offshore companies, due to it offering favourable regulations with regard to taxation and (until now) no current requirement to register for public records. Public records of beneficial ownership on the BVI could have negative consequences for it economically; especially in the absence of a global standard of what such a register should look like - the UK’s own company register of beneficial ownership, established in 2016, has had a multitude of problems.
But the BVI has a global reputation as a murky haven for suspected tax evasion and money laundering, thanks largely to a number of controversial cases and adverse ratings by economic organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Creating a public register of company ownership has to be seen as a vital first step towards removing the reasons why such a reputation persists.