In his closing speech at the summit the UK prime minister, David Cameron, said, “The EU, Iceland, UAE and most of our Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies with major financial centres have agreed to automatically exchange their entire registries of beneficial ownership information. This means that law enforcement agencies across the world will be able to access this data – in many cases for the first time – and use it to expose the corrupt.
“We’ve talked about the need for every country to ultimately reach what I call the gold standard of a having a public register of beneficial ownership. And I am clear that I include all the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in that. But it was encouraging to hear praise for what the head of the OECD described as, and I quote, the “exemplary delivery” of our crown dependencies in the steps they have taken so far.”
Cameron also announced that all foreign companies which own properties in the UK will have to register publicly who really owns them, who really controls them – and no foreign company will be able to buy UK property or bid for central government contracts without joining this register.
It was also agreed that 22 countries will introduce new asset recovery legislation, 14 will strengthen their protections for whistle-blowers – a discussion we had in the last session and 11 countries will review the penalties for companies that fail to prevent tax evasion. Five countries (Afghanistan, France, Kenya, Netherlands and Nigeria) have committed to creating public registers of beneficial ownership and 6 more will explore similar arrangements.
Pressure group, the Tax Justice Network (TJN), which before the summit produced a list of the changes it was hoping for said that while the UK could do more the momentum is growing against corruption and for more openness about tax information – 12 countries at the summit said they ‘will support the development of a global commitment for large multinational enterprises to publicly disclose tax information on a country-by-country basis’.
With an estimated $21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world the TJN’s Financial Secrecy Index – in which it produces a score from a range of indicators – has found that Switzerland tops its list of countries with the most financial secrecy, followed by Hong Kong and then the US. The Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory, comes fifth and the UK at 15th. Meanwhile research by pressure group, Global Justice Now, published in the Guardian newspaper found that 389 listed companies trading their shares in London are registered in British overseas territories or crown protectorates.
In the lead up to the summit anti-poverty campaigners Global Witness and Oxfam released a poll they had commissioned which found that 85% of British voters think that all UK and offshore companies should have to reveal their real owners. A similar number (80%) said they believe David Cameron has a moral duty to ensure the UK’s Overseas Territories are as transparent as possible.