Following the introduction of a public register of persons with significant control for the British companies and LLP (from April 2016), as well as for the Scottish partnerships (since June 2017), some British dependent territories, under pressure from the UK itself, have created similar registers / databases. However, these centralized registers will be closed, and the access to data from them will be available only to the British competent authorities and only upon request. This decision has become a compromise after many years of negotiations and frictions, since the overseas territories, although partially subject to the law of Great Britain, are still self-regulatory. On the one hand, access to these closed registers / databases will enable the UK law enforcement agencies to monitor tax evasion, as well as terrorists and criminals hiding behind the anonymous companies. On the other hand, this will put an end to the requirements for the introduction of open registers of beneficiaries in the countries partially controlled by Great Britain. Among such states are the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, Bermuda, Guernsey, Jersey, and others. As the British Virgin Islands (hereinafter - the BVI) are the most popular with our clients among offshore jurisdictions, we will consider legislative changes in connection with the agreements reached with the UK.
So, after the exchange of official communications between the governments of the BVI and the UK on June 12, 2017 the Law on Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System (hereinafter - BOSS) was adopted, and from June 30, 2017, it came into force. In accordance with this law, at the moment, the work is in progress on creating a central database (server) on the BVI, which will contain all the information and supporting documents about the beneficial owners of all corporate entities and legal entities registered in this jurisdiction. This database will be used to facilitate the effective transmission of information on the ultimate beneficial owners by the competent BVI authorities at the request of an authorized law enforcement agency of the United Kingdom.
The beneficial owner in the BOSS Act is defined as a natural person who ultimately owns or controls directly or indirectly 25% or more shares or voting rights of a legal entity. It should be noted, that, however, there is a threshold of 25% or more for the purposes of the BOSS legislation for claiming a report on a beneficial owner, in other BVI legislation, on combating terrorism and money laundering, it is set of more than 10%. This means that the registration agent can request information about all persons who control more than 10% of the company’s shares. The information about the trustee or other person who controls these legal relationships is subject to disclosure, as well as information about the founder or another person with whom a nominal agreement is concluded.
The BOSS Act allows each Registered Agent to create its own databases for storing information about the ultimate beneficial owners of legal entities, which, in turn, will be available to officials of one of the following authorized competent authorities:
- Financial Investigation Agency;
- Financial Services Commission;
- International Tax Office;
- Chamber of Attorney General.
The BOSS Act requires to provide the following information for each beneficial owner:
- address of residence,
- date of Birth,
The requirements for storing information in BOSS are also listed in the Law. The requirements for the relevance of data in BOSS are also established. The companies are required to notify the registered agent of any changes in the beneficial ownership or the information about the beneficial owners provided by law for filing, within 15 days from the receipt of information about such changes, indicating the date of these changes. After this, the registered agent must take all necessary steps to update the BOSS system within 15 days after receiving the notice of the changes.
Strict penalties are imposed on both companies and registered agents for non-compliance with these requirements. Strict punishment for registration agents (fine or imprisonment) is also provided for provision of knowingly false information concerning a corporate legal entity, since this is considered a crime. In conclusion, we note that the BVI has concluded a number of agreements on the exchange of tax information with other countries. In addition, information on beneficial owners has always been available to competent authorities that have submitted a proper request to the relevant BVI body. And this means that BVI, like other offshore jurisdictions, are moving towards transparency with long strides, and the offshore companies are gradually losing their anonymity.