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Public Ownership Registers for British Overseas Territories Deadline Pushed Back

18 February 2019
For some time, the UK Parliament has required British Overseas Territories to establish public registries of the beneficial ownership of any business by 2020. But in a recent move, the original date of the end of 2020 was put back. In December 2018, it was announced that the deadline is being pushed back to 2023.

How This Came About

The law known as SAMLA (Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill) was amended in May last year following a campaign of cross-party MPs. It pushed for full disclosure by 2020 and required the government to enforce public registers on businesses in British Overseas Territories by the end of 2020. The government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) accepted the amendment even though it had previously warned that such direct legislation would damage the autonomy of the OTs.

The Overseas Territories directly affected by this were not happy. British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands – OTs with strong financial sectors – claimed the move went against previous agreements on political and democratic autonomy. It is on record that at least one OT began legal proceedings to have it reversed or, at the very least, postponed until the concept of public registry of beneficial ownership became a matter for international compliance.

Why the Change Now?

In a move in December 2018, the UK government reverted to a 2023 deadline initially agreed by David Cameron, the former Prime Minister. The changes set out in May would have required any UK government to issue relevant Orders in Council from December 2020 to non-compliant OTs. But in December, Lord Ahmad, the Foreign and Commonwealth Minister of State informed the Foreign Affairs Committee said that there was no obligation for instant compliance on the matter. It was also a matter of record that Gibraltar along with a few other OTs, were engaging in a programme of voluntarily compliance that would see them having measures in place by December 2020.

Specifically, Lord Ahmad said that SAMLA obliges the UK Government to produce an Order in Council by 2020 for those that do not have a public register. However, it did not specify a required date by which OTs must comply. All OTs that attended the Joint Ministerial Council in December 2018 were informed of their requirement to produce public registers by the end of 2023.

The Significance of 2023

It was during the Premiership of David Cameron that the initial date was agreed. The year 2023 was set because that was the year of global compliance for international registry. However, even if these measures are not adopted elsewhere in the world, the UK Government will still require compliance by this date.

Despite initial concerns, there is little evidence that business assets are fleeing British Overseas Territories. Nothing official has been announced from any channel, and the UK Government has yet to be informed of any intention of flight of assets from any OT.

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