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British offshore territories respond angrily to public register calls

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The government says it will not oppose measures to increase transparency in offshore tax havens, including the introduction of public registers.

These registers would force British overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands to publish details of the true owners of companies based there.

The government had faced a possible defeat in the House of Commons, having initially said it would oppose an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill introduced by Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell and Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge. The government had originally said it did not want to legislate directly and therefore damage the overseas territories’ autonomy.

Campaigners said a public register would help uncover corruption, money laundering and tax dodging.

The British overseas territories have reacted angrily to the shift. The premier of the Cayman Islands, the Hon Alden McLaughlin, said: “Imposition of legislation, through powers that date back to the colonial era, over and above the wishes of the democratically elected legislative bodies of the Overseas Territories represents a gross affront to the constitutional relationship we currently have with the United Kingdom.

“Further, imposing such an obligation on the Overseas Territories while exempting the Crown Dependencies discriminates unfairly against the Overseas Territories. This amendment is based solely on prejudice and a wilful misunderstanding of our current regulatory framework.”

British Virgin Islands Premier, Dr. The Honorable Orlando Smith, said: “This is a deeply flawed policy as the BVI already provides verified beneficial ownership information to the United Kingdom and other law enforcement authorities.

“We believe that in the absence of a global standard and a level playing field, the imposition of public registers of beneficial ownership on the Virgin Islands could have negative economic consequences. It is unfortunate that this development has taken place as we continue to recover from last years’ disasters.

“Certainly, these are difficult times. But, I firmly believe that working together and with strong and collective commitment, our financial services industry will develop and adapt successfully as it has done in the past. Over the past few years, we have prepared the financial services sector for changes such as this. In the coming weeks, we will be taking action on those plans.”



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