In an interview on the BBC’s flagship radio programme, Today, Lorna Smith OBE, Executive Director of BVI Finance, argued that proposals to force the British Virgin Islands to create a public register of beneficial ownership are undemocratic and undermine the people of the BVI.
Speaking to Dame Margaret Hodge MP, who is leading the call for the proposed changes, Mrs Smith said that the legislation would represent a “constitutional infringement”, subverting the BVI’s right to self-determination that was agreed with the UK in 2007.
“It is simply not right,” Mrs Smith said, “This smacks of colonialism. It is wrong.”
Dame Margaret, together with a number of other MPs, is attempting to amend the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, so that it includes a provision for the Overseas Territories to be compelled by the UK government to create public registers of beneficial ownership by the end of 2020 using an Order in Council.
Such a move would be unprecedented and breach previous constitutional agreements that the BVI has with the UK to guarantee the BVI’s right to manage its own economy.
Mrs Smith also questioned Dame Margaret’s view that public registers are a silver bullet for combatting financial crime, saying that the UK’s public register is riddled with problems and pointing to the fact that information on it is not verified. In contrast, the BVI’s register of beneficial ownership is verified, and therefore accurate and useful for law enforcement agencies responsible for fighting economic crime.
The vote on the Bill will be this afternoon UK time. BVI Finance and the BVI Government are working tirelessly to ensure that the rights of the BVI’s people are not undermined, and will explore all options available in doing so.