MPs passed the latest stage of the Criminal Finances Bill, which is intended to crack down on money-laundering and — specifically — make available public registers of beneficial ownership in UK-linked tax havens, so that the identity of the ultimate owner of property or assets is transparent.
The UK has a number of "overseas territories," including the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Cayman Islands Gibraltar and the Turks and Caicos Islands, as well as "Crown Dependencies," which are the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey — all of which are used as tax havens.
The UK has come under pressure to reform its regulatory system following the Panama Papers scandal, which involved the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, detailing how the corporate service provider helped create 214,488 offshore entities around the world in order for companies and people to reduce their tax liabilities in many countries.
However, the latest legislation only called for the opening up of public registers in the UK overseas territories — not the crown dependencies. In any case, MPs heard that many companies using the overseas territories would simply move their assets to other states.
"The companies registered in the BVI, the Cayman Islands or the Turks and Caicos Islands would simply register elsewhere in countries that do not have public registers. They would go to Panama or Colombia," Sir Henry Bellingham MP told parliament.
"Apart from the BVI losing its business model, those unintended consequences would include, above all else, the loss of some excellent intelligence and exchange of information arrangements. For example, the BVI has in place a beneficial ownership secured search system that enables our crime and fraud agencies to co-operate immediately and confidentially to get the information required. If these companies were registered elsewhere in the world, we would lose that crime-busting capability," he said.
The Third Reading of the #CriminalFinancesBill is passed without a division. The Bill progresses to the House of Lords.— House of Commons (@HouseofCommons) 21 February 2017
"Serious and organized crime costs the UK at least [US$30 billion] annually and deprives people of their security and prosperity. We task our law enforcement agencies with combating the evolving threat from both criminals and terrorists, and I pay credit to those agencies for all the work they do on our behalf, but without the necessary powers to pursue and prevent these illicit activities, they fight a losing battle," said Ben Wallace MP.