Correspondence

Prime Minister's letter to the Overseas Territories on beneficial ownership

Published 25 April 2014

When we met in June last year I applauded all the progress that the Overseas Territories had made on our G8 agenda on tax and transparency. Since then, I have welcomed your continued commitments to work with the UK to promote the application of high international, including EU and OECD, standards and your action plan on beneficial ownership setting out the concrete steps you will take to strengthen your laws on financial transparency. The Treasury would welcome an early opportunity to discuss your considerations. Our joint approach has been our strength, and I hope we can continue to push this agenda forward together.

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 have enclosed the relevant section of the outcome of our consultation, setting out how we plan to implement a publicly accessible central registry domestically.

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.

Of course, we need to be very careful about any initiative that puts personal information in the public domain. We have therefore decided that information that could be used to facilitate fraud and identity theft will not be available on the public register, but will be held securely and made available to law enforcement and tax authorities.

By leading the world on this agenda we are taking an important step in promoting strong and transparent corporate governance in the UK and around the world. We will further improve our reputation as a trusted country in which to invest and do business. Of course, 1 country acting alone cannot tackle illicit finance globally, which is why the international community has to work together. I am pleased that G20 leaders have tasked Finance Ministers to report this year on their progress implementing beneficial ownership standards. I also wrote last year to Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and other European Heads of government to set out the benefits of a publicly accessible registry and call on them to match our level of ambition.

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. I particularly welcome those that are already considering making their central registry publicly accessible. The rest of the world is watching us closely and a public registry will demonstrate the sincerity of our commitment to improve corporate behaviour and set a new standard for transparency of company ownership. I hope you will also consult on a public registry and look closely at what we are doing in the UK.

These are complex reforms and the UK will continue to refine the technical and operational aspects of the registry over coming months and as we take legislation through Parliament. UK ministers and officials would be happy to offer their experience and expertise in helping you with the design of your own approach.

I am writing in similar terms to the leaders of the other Overseas Territories.