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May 2, 2018

British Overseas territories reject UK Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill

A number of the British overseas territories named in an amendment in the UK Governments Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill have already spoken out against it.

In the UK, an amendment to the bill was tabled by MP Margaret Hodge aimed at forcing British overseas territories to publish details of the true owners of companies based there in a public register. This came on the back of leaks such as the panama papers, which helped reveal the complicated web of company and asset ownership in so called ‘tax havens’.

The government initially resisted the amendment on the grounds of damaging the territories’ autonomy, however eventually acquiesced in the face of defeat.

It is on these grounds of autonomy that the Government of Bermuda rejected the decision.

Bermuda’s Premier and Finance Minister, David Burt JP said: “The action taken in the UK Parliament today signals a retrograde step in the relations between the United Kingdom and the Overseas Territories. In the case of Bermuda, after fifty years of constitutionally sanctioned internal self-government it is regrettable that we see this ‘about face’ which fails to acknowledge this long history of enshrined democratic freedoms. The Government of Bermuda maintains that the constitutional position is clear and we will take necessary steps to ensure our constitution is respected.”

Similarly, prior to the vote, British Virgin Islands premier and minister of finance D. Orlando Smith said: “I reject the idea that our democratically elected government should be superseded by the UK parliament, especially in the area of financial services, which has been formally entrusted to the BVI people,” adding it would undermine the constitutional relationships and trust between the BVI and UK.

Similarly, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) said that it was concerned the provisions could prove discriminatory to the British Virgin Islands, and also said it thought it would contravene the constitutional arrangement between the islands and the UK

In turn, Fabian Picardo, chief minister for Gibraltar, described the move as ‘an unacceptable act of modern colonialism which would in effect overturn democracy in the relevant territory.’

He added: “I cannot emphasise enough to you how unacceptable this is and how contrary to the direction of travel of the constitutional development of Gibraltar such a step would be.”

Record defending

The countries also defended their openness and their track records in financial transparency.

Picardo, for example, noted that Gibraltar was already independently committed to the establishment of a public register of ultimate beneficial ownership when an international standard on this subject is agreed, and that it was committed to the existing OECD international standard as regards the sharing of registers of ultimate beneficial ownership.

Burt, meanwhile, said: “It is well known that Bermuda already has some of the most responsive and comprehensive registers of beneficial ownership of companies registered in this jurisdiction and that those registers are updated in real time on every share transfer. This has been the position for almost 80 years.

“This information has long been available to legitimate international competent authorities via the OECD Multilateral Tax Convention which has a 117 participating countries. In 2016, we agreed to share beneficial ownership information as requested by the National Crime Agency and HMRC within 24 hour turnaround or one hour for urgent enquiries.“

The new measures will not apply to Britain’s crown dependencies: Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

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