LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – British Prime Minister David Cameron has written to the leaders of the UK’s overseas territories and crown dependencies to encourage them to create public registries that would reveal the true owners of companies registered in their jurisdictions.
“I believe that beneficial ownership and public access to a central register is key to improving the transparency of company ownership and vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion,” Cameron wrote in Friday’s letter.
“By leading the world on this agenda we are taking an important step in promoting strong and transparent corporate governance in the UK and around the world,” Cameron added.
The letter comes less than a week after the UK’s Department for Business, Industry and Skills (BIS) published the details of the UK’s plans to create a public register of the beneficial owners of UK-registered companies.
Governments in most advanced economies are short of tax revenue after the financial crisis, and pressure has been growing on small territories with big banking sectors to lift bank secrecy and do more to combat tax dodging and money laundering.
British overseas territories and crown dependencies - which are effectively colonies with some self-government – are often labelled ‘tax havens’ by both the media and transparency campaigners, much to the displeasure of their leaders.
Development agency Christian Aid said in a statement that it was “extremely pleased” to see Cameron’s letter encouraging the UK’s tax havens to create public beneficial ownership registries.
“If these territories want to shake off the label of ‘tax haven’, then now is the time for them to do it,” said Barry Johnston, Senior UK Political Adviser at Christian Aid.
British overseas territories include Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands while crown dependencies include Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.