Tackling The Myth of ‘Secrecy’

A recent House of Commons debate on the Criminal Finances Bill included discussion about whether the Crown Dependencies should be forced to create public registries of beneficial ownership information. Setting aside the constitutional aspects of whether such a debate was even justified, it once again revealed the lack of understanding amongst some MPs about Jersey’s role as an IFC.

Whether they feign misunderstanding because it suits their political purpose or whether there is a genuine lack of knowledge is difficult to know, but the general tenor of the criticism reflected another of those ‘myths’ that we hear so often about the Crown Dependencies that Jersey helps wealthy Britons and companies stash their money out of sight of the taxman. References to ‘trading in secrecy’ and suggestions that ‘we aid and abet financial crimes’ because we permit secretive companies to place their funds here, were liberally sprinkled amongst the comments.

Fortunately there are other MPs who now see beyond the myths and are able to point to the true picture, quoting from authoritative organisations that have rigorously tested our regulatory regime and acknowledge our compliance with international standards. One leading Conservative quoted from last year’s MONEYVAL report which highlighted Jersey’s position in the top tier among jurisdictions for regulatory compliance and high standards of transparency, while other MPs rightly pointed out that many leading western nations were far behind us in the steps that had taken to date to comply with such standards. I believe that such endorsements signify that the engagement work undertaken by Jersey’s government and by us, along with the academic work we have commissioned, is having an appreciable impact on attitudes.

Furthermore in respect of private individuals, with the introduction of the Common Reporting Standard this year, to which Jersey is one of 54 signatories, any of the countries operating CRS wanting to know about the tax affairs of a resident has access to that information. The idea that a location such as Jersey can be a suitable place to hide money from detection is both out dated and misguided.

Sadly there are still MPs that ignore these developments but choose to use the statistics generated by NGOs as gospel, even though they are not based on any credible evidence. Such claims portray a distorted view in which the evidence of MONEYVAL, the Financial Action TaskForce and other academic research is ignored in favour of speculative data that does not hold up when examined.

The debate included further calls for all registries in the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories to eventually be publically available, but we would maintain that such a facility will be ineffective. Criminals would wish to conceal their interests so we would question whether a central registry whose information is provided through self-reporting will prove a suitable solution. We think not. The Jersey model enables Jersey to provide law enforcement agencies and tax authorities with the data they need on the beneficial ownership of Jersey companies, while the onus is on the regulated company service provider to ensure that the information is verified. Providers cannot afford to ignore this obligation. We are fully supportive of greater transparency and the ending of secrecy jurisdictions but we will continue to seek to persuade politicians and commentators that a fully publically available registry will not help in that regard.

 

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