File Photo: BVI Premier Andrew Fahie says the names of BVI company owners are constitutionally protected private information.

ROAD TOWN, BVI–December 15th, 2020–After the UK released a draft order on transparency of company ownership, the BVI government released a statement which said Premier Andrew Fahie has told the UK government that the BVI “has significant reservations regarding the Draft Order”.

According to the statement from the government, Premier Fahie said the creation of publicly accessible registers will reveal a range of data of a personal and private nature. 

Premier Fahie has said the Draft Order may pose a threat to the privacy rights of individuals under the Constitution of the Virgin Islands.”

“This is, however, subject to ongoing proceedings before the Virgin Islands High Court and so the Premier will not comment further except to say that this is a matter for the Court to consider and decide in the usual way,” he further stated.

In the statement, the government said it was already regulating the financial services industry with the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search system (“BOSSs”) which the BVI established in 2017.

BOSSs is different from the system the UK is proposing because it doesn’t share personal information with the general public but only with “relevant law enforcement agencies to prevent financial crime”.

In the statement released yesterday, the Premier said “any modification of the BOSS system could only be done taking into account the concerns raised by the Government of the Virgin Islands, global best practice and obligations under the Constitution of the Virgin Islands”.

At this point, it is unclear what consequences the BVI’s financial services industry will face if the territory doesn’t implement publicly accessible registers in accordance with the UK’s new policy.

Current regulation of financial services in the Virgin Islands is claimed to be compliant with global best practice.

Indeed, the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search system (“BOSSs”) was established by Virgin Islands legislation in 2017 as part of the BVI’s commitment to ensure effective cooperation between relevant law enforcement agencies to prevent financial crime.

Fahie said that any modification of the BOSS system could only be done taking into account the concerns raised by the Government of the Virgin Islands, global best practice and obligations under the Constitution of the Virgin Islands.

With the appointment yesterday of a new Governor in Bermuda who is has a background in financial crime enforcement, the BVI will be treading carefully to make sure it complies with international regulations that give individuals and the press, and not just law enforcement agencies, access to information about who owns companies.

The recently enacted UK Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill amendment will allow the government to impose a requirement to introduce “publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership of companies” on BOTs that do not take action voluntarily. BOTs would have until 31 December 2020 to act before the UK government would be able to take action.

The measures will not apply to the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

The UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement that it intended to promote public registers of company ownership as “the global standard”.