September 24, 2022

UK seems to relax pressure on Caymans over company register

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2279Rowena Mason Political correspondent From The Guardian UK

Grant Shapps, Foreign Office minister, says on visit that Cayman Islands could use existing systems to help tax authorities

The UK government appears to have relaxed its pressure on the Cayman Islands to create a register of company ownership, despite David Cameron’s plea last year for overseas territories to do so in the interests of tax transparency.

The prime minister promised to introduce a public register of beneficial ownership in the UK and wrote to the overseas territories last year urging them to consider doing the same, arguing that public access to a central list is “vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion”.

However, the Cayman Islands is one of several offshore territories – including the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda – that are refusing to implement the idea after consultation.

Despite further pressure from the Foreign Office and Treasury earlier this year, the position of the Cayman Islands now seems to have been accepted by Grant Shapps, a Foreign Office minister.

On a visit last week, Shapps said he believed the aims of helping tax authorities could achieved within the Cayman Islands’ existing systems and argued “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”.

“Now, in terms of beneficial ownership the principle’s really straight forward. There needs to be, certainly for law enforcement agencies and bodies, the ability to find out who owns what in a transparent way, and not only for that information to be quickly and efficiently available so a single request could go in and the information can be provided,” Shapps told a press conference.

Under the Cayman Islands plan, there would be no government-held register, but corporate service providers would have to make available information on company ownership to law enforcement agencies within 24 hours of a request being made.

Shapps himself tweeted that the Treasury had only ever expected overseas territories to set out timetables for either central registries “or similarly effective systems” by November 2015.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office insisted the position of the British government had not changed.

“As Mr Shapps set out during his visit to the Cayman Islands, our objective is to ensure law enforcement and tax authorities are able to access company beneficial ownership information without restriction,” the spokeswoman said.

“This will ensure relevant authorities can quickly identify all companies that a particular beneficial owner has a stake in, without needing to submit multiple and repeated requests.”

Before the election, Labour went a step further than the government in promising to force overseas territories and crown dependencies to disclose beneficial ownership, even though they are independent.

George Town in the Cayman Islands, which is refusing to set up a public register of beneficial ownership. Photograph: Stephen Frink/Corbis

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