Some media sources continue to conveniently conflate the definition of ‘secrecy’ and ‘privacy’ when it comes to accessing information on the beneficial ownership of companies. There is a clear and important distinction to be made here. The BVI’s register of beneficial ownership is private but it is by no means secret as it can be accessed by law enforcement authorities.
The BVI subscribes to the Common Law principle of confidentiality and an individual’s right to privacy – especially when it comes to personal and business transactions. This is true of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights that stipulates that EU citizens have the right to protection of their personal data. In fact, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is considered the toughest privacy and security law in the world.
We also respect the right to privacy as per Article 12 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights; “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
To that effect the BVI Government reiterated its support for working with the United Kingdom Government towards the implementation of a publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership for companies, yet with clearly stated reservations.
The announcement was well received by the UK Government and other stakeholders, yet in covering the news one UK newspaper referred to the BVI as a ‘secrecy jurisdiction’. This contained little resemblance to the facts. There was no mention of the BVI’s track record in meeting international standards for transparency and information sharing.
Missing from the piece was the fact that the BVI currently holds an accessible beneficial ownership register for all companies incorporated. Furthermore, unlike many other jurisdictions including the UK, only licensed and regulated corporate service providers (CSPs) can incorporate companies in the BVI. By law, CSPs are required to conduct customer due diligence.
The media report should have also noted that the BVI was one of the first jurisdictions to introduce anti-money laundering (AML) legislation in 1999 and has implemented comprehensive AML laws and adopts stringent rules in know-your customer (KYC) due diligence consistent with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations – the global standard for combating financial crime and money laundering.
Indeed, through its Beneficial Ownership Secure Search system (BOSSs), the BVI’s autonomous law enforcement agency the Financial Investigation Agency (FIA), can provide rapid access to verified beneficial ownership information on any BVI company. Today the BVI IFA shares information with more than 200 countries around the world – again a fact that would have evidenced the BVI’s progressive approach.
The BVI Government has reaffirmed its commitment to meeting international standards of accessibility and transparency, whilst clearly setting out reservations that need to be addressed to protect the best interests of those who use its services for legitimate purposes.
Presenting the BVI as a secrecy jurisdiction is neither accurate or fair. It is also a hindrance to our constructive and collaborative dialogue with international authorities and institutions in the global fight against financial crime and money laundering. The BVI will continue in its efforts to keep pace with evolving global standards, but on our own terms. In doing so, we will continue to ensure that the BVI remains one of the world’s leading and competitive international finance centres.