Our Prime Minister has written a letter to the UK’s overseas territories and crown dependencies promoting the value of a public register that would show the ultimate owners of companies registered in their jurisdiction.

This follows the publication of the “Company ownership: transparency and trust discussion paper” last week. It concluded:

“… we plan to proceed with the following policies:

  • establish a publicly accessible central registry of UK company beneficial ownership information
  • improve transparency of company ownership and control, including:

    • abolishing bearer shares
    • prohibiting the use of corporate directors (with exceptions)
    • increasing the accountability of those who control company directors
  • improve trust in the UK regime for disqualifying company directors
  • increase the likelihood of creditors being compensated where they have suffered loss from director misconduct”

David Cameron seems keen to share the insights gained. Here’s an extract from his letter:

“As you know, I believe that beneficial ownership and public access to a central register is key to improving the transparency of company ownership and vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion. So I am proud that the establishment of a publicly accessible central registry of company beneficial ownership information will now form a key pillar of our G8 legacy.

“We have conducted an in-depth consultation and now look forward to introducing legislation in the UK Parliament as soon as possible.

“I am firmly of the view that making company beneficial ownership information open to the public is by far the best approach. It will give businesses and individuals a clearer picture of who ultimately owns and controls the companies they are dealing with and make it easier for banks, lawyers and others to conduct due diligence on their customers. It will shed light on those who have provided false information, helping to tackle crime where it occurs and deterring people from providing this false information in the first place. And it will help reduce the cost of investigations for tax and law enforcement authorities here and overseas, particularly in developing countries, by making information more easily available to them at the very start of an investigation.

“I am very keen that we should move forward together in raising standards of transparency globally. I therefore wholeheartedly welcome all those Overseas Territories who are joining us in leading this work, either by already having a central registry in place or by consulting on establishing one.

It would seem that the net is tightening on organisations that use off-shore arrangements to avoid paying tax.

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