Corporate Secrecy and Red Footed Boobies

The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory, comprising three islands in the western Caribbean. Best known for beach resorts, scuba diving, snorkelling sites, deep-sea fishing, endangered iguanas, red-footed boobies and corporate secrecy.

To date only limited information has been available about companies registered in this Caribbean idyll, typically a brief summary of registration details.

UK government’s requests to a number of British Overseas Territories to develop fully public registers of ownership have traditionally been met with reluctance by the government of the Cayman Islands, concerned about the privacy of beneficial owners. Now however there are plans to introduce a beneficial ownership register that seeks to strike an acceptable balance between transparency and privacy. The UK government has accepted the compromise proposed by Cayman.

The forthcoming legislation will require certain Cayman Islands companies to be included on the UBO (ultimate beneficial ownership) Register. It will list those who ultimately own or control more than 25 per cent of the equity, or voting rights or have the right to appoint or remove a majority of a company’s directors or LLC managers. Intermediate holding companies, through which other companies may be held, may also be listed.

The proposed system will allow the UK government, and other foreign authorities and Cayman domestic bodies with agreements in place, to access a UBO Register, via a Competent Authority i.e. any person or organisation that has the legally delegated authority to perform this particular function.

The register will not be publicly accessible, unless and until such access becomes an international standard.

So, one small step forward for law enforcement agencies in their fight against tax evasion and money laundering, but no great leap forward for those businesses involved in international trade who need to Know Their Customers. One wonders whether such a regulatory regime has a more or less promising future than the boobies and the iguanas.