This morning, Mark Durkan MP, an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption, tabled an Urgent Question on the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council.
Questioning how satisfied the Government was that “significant progress” has been made in meeting Prime Minister David Cameron’s demands to tackle corruption, Mr Durkan identified the Territories as “the routes of shelter for all…scams and shams”.
Cumulatively the Overseas Territories are the most used jurisdiction for the location of legal entities facilitating cases of grand corruption. The Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that registers need to be public in order to end the secrecy that enables the flow of illicit finance.
However, the Council concluded yesterday with the announcement that the UK’s Overseas Territories are to introduce central registers of beneficial ownership or ‘similarly effective systems’ instead.
The communique makes it clear that the proposed registers will remain closed to the public and that UK law enforcement authorities, who have not been given immediate access to company information, will remain in the dark until the registers come into force.
It is uncertain when this will be. In response to question from Nigel Mills MP, co-Chair of the APPG on Anti-Corruption, the Government stated that more details would be available in February 2016 and suggested that different territories would have different timetables for bringing in transparency measures.
Given that the Overseas Territories were initially asked by the Foreign Office to have timetables prepared in time for the December meeting, this additional delay is disappointing.
Today’s announcement represents a very small step towards undoing the financial secrecy that has become the hallmark of the Territories. Mr Mills argued that this progress was insufficient, stating that “Overseas Territories should be taking the lead in preventing the flow in corrupt, criminal, and terrorist money”.