11:58 GMT02 June 2020
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    British Chancellor George Osborne has been accused of hypocrisy after unveiling an agreement with Germany, France, Italy and Spain that will see tax and law enforcement agencies from the five countries exchange data on company beneficial ownership registers and new registers of trusts.

    The proposal — by interlinking country registries — will provide, for the first time, international real-time access to tax and law enforcement agencies on company ownership. However, critics say the scheme will not apply to many British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies.

    The British Overseas Territories include the well-known tax havens of Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Gibraltar. The Crown Dependencies comprise Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man — all of which have notoriously secretive tax regimes.

    "Britain will work with our major European partners ‎to find out who really owns the secretive shell companies and trusts that have been used as conduits for evading tax, laundering money and benefiting ‎from corruption. Now it is Britain and our European partners‎ setting the pace on beneficial ownership transparency of not just companies but also trusts with a tax consequence — and I expect that the rest of the world will move to follow our example again," Osborne said.

    'Questionable Value'

    However, Richard Murphy from Tax Research UK said: "The UK seems a reluctant partner, apparently doing all it can to mitigate disclosure on trusts, where new rules are far from adequate and will mean that effective information exchange from the UK is very unlikely.

    "This comes at the end of a week when media I have seen suggests that Jersey, Guernsey and Cayman (at least) are cock-a-hoop at having rebuffed calls from David Cameron that they must have readily accessible registers of beneficial ownership even for the use of UK law enforcement agencies, so how the UK thinks that now is the time to claim world leadership in this issue is very hard to credit. As I have argued, this government has proved this week to be a good friend jf the forces of corruption," he said.

    Jersey Finance — which represents the interests of the island's financial sector — said:

    "We believe that the new UK public register will provide data of questionable value, as the criminal fraternity and individuals seeking to misuse UK companies to launder money would be unlikely to comply with the self-reporting requirements," Jersey Finance said in a paper published on its website.

    "We believe that the new UK public register will provide data of questionable value. The data will be unreliable as there are unlikely to be any meaningful checks in place (such as those undertaken by regulated Jersey service providers) on the quality of information being captured," it said in a statement.

    Although most British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies have signed up to a deal with the UK on beneficial ownership registers, they will not be made public. The Premier of the Cayman Islands Alden McLaughlin, said:

    "This is what we wanted, this is what we have been pushing for three years, for a disaggregated system which leaves the beneficial ownership information intact with the service providers."


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