Three of Britain’s tax havens are ready to lift their veils of secrecy over the mystery owners of thousands of offshore companies.
The British Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have all promised to bring in sweeping changes triggered by a revamp of European Union money laundering laws.
The measures will open secret company ownership data to the public gaze for the first time in a bid to reveal shell companies that are hiding money.
In a joint statement, the three dependencies agreed to bring in laws allowing public access to a beneficial ownership register of companies no more than 12 months later than the EU money laundering review ends, which is expected to be in January 2022.
“We hope to encourage other jurisdictions to raise their own standards, particularly in relation to the verification of data and the regulation of the financial services sector,” said Ian Gorst, Jersey’s external relations minister said.
In an earlier announcement, the British government announced intentions to make the beneficial ownership of companies more transparent in overseas territories, such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands more transparent by the end of 2020.
Tax and money laundering campaigners have welcomed the moves – but would like the information to become available to the public sooner.
“The proof will of course be in the pudding – we have some concerns over the timeframe and that the details could leave plenty of room to manoeuvre,” said Naomi Hirst, a spokesman for international anti-corruption campaigners Global Witness.
Era of secrecy
“The era of secrecy is a thing of the past and other tax havens must now make their own moves to bring the real people behind anonymously-owned companies out of the shadows. Any state failing to do so risks being left behind.”
The Tax Justice Network was more scathing.
John Christensen, the network’s director, said: “This is the opposite of leadership. It took the allied powers six months to plan and successfully carry out the D-Day landings. It took Thomas Edison two years to create the lightbulb. The Crown Dependencies have today set out a three year plan to table a discussion in parliament with no commitments and no details on whether they will comply with emerging international standards on beneficial ownership transparency.”