In late September 2020, Premier and Minister of Finance of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) Andrew A. Fahie announced plans to establish a "publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership for companies." From a press release:
Honourable Fahie noted that the BVI is honoured to be a premier international finance centre and continues to dutifully embrace the responsibility that comes with this reputation, which is to adhere to global standards in combatting money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism and to avoid the misuse of its companies, products and offerings for the furtherance of illicit or nefarious deeds. However, he cautioned that there is legitimate ground for concern that, without appropriate checks and balances, publicly accessible registers could be abused by persons with ill intent, such as kidnappers.
The Premier said while it is a noble objective to seek the prosecution of terrorists, tax evaders and money launderers, the net that will be cast by the currently proposed model of publicly accessible registers, is disproportionate, since it can be used to breach the rights of the law-abiding and tax-paying individuals who are far greater in number than the targeted law-breakers. There needs to be prudence and balance in the systems, he said.
The British Virgin Islands have long held a reputation as a tax haven for corporations, providing a convenient bureaucratic loophole for businesses to avoid accountability and operate in secret. According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:
The BVI ranks near the top of the Tax Justice Network's Financial Secrecy Index, and has served a pivotal role in enabling anonymous ownership conducive to illicit financial flows.
A 2018 BBC investigation found that a quarter of property in England and Wales owned by overseas firms were held by BVI registered entities. Those findings, it said, added to concerns that "companies registered in British-controlled tax havens have been used to avoid tax."
"Every time that there's a global exposé on illicit finance, the BVI's name comes up," said Eva Lee, a campaign leader at the international NGO Global Witness.
"The recent leak of files from FinCEN showed that at least 20% of the occasions when banks in the U.S. raised suspicions of money laundering involved BVI companies, and half the companies exposed by the Panama Papers were registered there," she said.
Whether anything actually happens here, or if Honourable Fahie's lofty aspirations are crushed by corporate lobbying, remains to be seen. But this could potentially mark a major shift in the age of secretive corporate fuckery.
British Virgin Islands Plans to Make Company Ownership Transparent [Eli Moskowitz / Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project]
BVI Premier Reiterates Territory's Commitment To An Appropriate Framework For Publicly Accessible Registers [Government of the British Virgin Islands]
Image: bvi4092/Flickr (CC 2.0)