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A public directory of beneficial ownership would be an attack on the freedom of privacy to achieve nothing
David Cameron’s parting words at the recent G8 summit championed global transparency as the panacea to ward off the twin scourges of tax evasion and money-laundering. The US and UK have plans to pursue the principles espoused at the summit and several small international financial centres have been quick to follow suit.
There is a reason why small international financial centres (IFCs) such as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Channel Islands have embraced onshore initiatives on transparency and regulatory information-sharing: there is nothing about the work legitimately undertaken by the financial services industries in these jurisdictions that is materially affected by greater levels of transparency among state tax gatherers and regulatory bodies.
Jurisdictions like Cayman offer a well-developed legal structure under a flexible statutory regime within a common law system renowned for its sensible approach to commercial disputes. The ability to raise capital efficiently and improve the liquidity of financial markets in a tax-neutral environment provides benefits to investors and the jurisdictions in which they deploy their capital, with all the beneficial consequences that efficient capital investment has for growth and poverty reduction in developing nations.
Certain parts of the media would have us believe it is lack of transparency in small IFCs that allows organised criminals to hide their ill-gotten gains and companies to evade tax. That is pure fiction: the assumption that tax-neutrality is concordant with secrecy and illegality is insupportable.
When the rhetoric of 2008 gave way to a focus on the things that matter – the management of risk, the prevention of money-laundering and the promotion of transparency – small IFCs jumped at the chance to participate in the resultant initiatives. All rushed to sign tax information exchange agreements and jurisdictions such as Cayman extended the benefit of the relevant legislation on a unilateral basis.
Under the EU’s more recent Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive, the forms of agreement for the exchange of regulatory information with the European Securities and Markets Authority have been agreed. Anti-money-laundering rules for the identification of beneficial ownership have withstood scrutiny by the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the US Senate.
However, embracing transparency and the exchange of information between authorities is not the same as making private information available to the public. The plans adopted have thus been careful to avoid any suggestion of information being required to be made available to the public, and that is entirely appropriate.
In Cayman we have always regarded private matters as private, and there is nothing about the G8 proposals that seeks to interfere with that principle. The right to privacy is a legitimate and cherished pillar of freedom the world over, and a public directory of beneficial ownership would breach this principle in a way that would be irrelevant to the aims of the G8 action plan.