A fascinating and insightful feature from Bloomberg on 4th July looks in some depth at the osshore economy in the BVI saying that it is nominally home to 400,000 companies, and is desperate to fend off transparency – the companies sector providing 62% of its income.  Amongst other things, it looks at BOSS – the beneficial Ownership Secure Search System – which the BVI began using in 2017 to meet international demands.  However, it appears only 2 people at the Financial Investigation Agency have access to the whole system, even though around 600,000 companies and their owners (about a third of all offshore companies) have details held on the system.  The article also reveals that last year regulators carried out only 4 onsite inspections of financial firms (though there would be likely little to find and inspect at the offices perhaps).  Under new “economic substance” rules, taking effect this year, a company tax resident in the BVI must have local presence, which could lead many to leave or try to scale up their presence (which could be difficult given limited resources in the BVI).  An even greater threat is said to be the UK-ordained requirement to have a public beneficial ownership register by 2020.  The article disputes claims of legitimate uses for extreme secrecy – saying that the often elaborate attempts to conceal the ultimate owners are intended to make it difficult (if not impossible) to trace funds in business disputes, tax investigations and money laundering probes (amongst other things) – and it is these things that transparency really threatens.  The article looks at the origins of the offshore sector in the BVI, and the people behind it, and how the US invasion of Panama in 1989 helped the BVI become the most popular offshore centre.  It was ironic, therefore, that it was the release of the Panama Papers from 2013 that had helped BVI into the situation it finds itself in.  The Financial Investigation Agency claims a good relationship with the UK NCA, and that it turns around 90% of requests within 24 hours (though anyone who has come across BVI companies knows that, without concrete evidence of wrongdoing, and plenty of time and energy, pursuing the true ownership of a BVI company can be, at best, highly difficult).

Author: raytodd2017

Chartered Legal Executive and former senior manager with Isle of Man Customs and Excise, where I was (amongst other things) Sanctions Officer (for UN/EU sanctions), Export Licensing Officer and Manager of the Legal-Library & Collectorate Support Section

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