UK seems to relax pressure on Caymans over company register

The UK government appears to have relaxed its pressure on the Cayman Islands to create a register of company ownership, despite David Cameron’s plea last year for overseas territories to do so in the interests of tax transparency.

The prime minister promised to introduce a public register of beneficial ownership in the UK and wrote to the overseas territories last year urging them to consider doing the same, arguing that public access to a central list is “vital to meeting the urgent challenges of illicit finance and tax evasion”.

However, the Cayman Islands is one of several offshore territories – including theBritish Virgin Islands and Bermuda – that are refusing to implement the idea after consultation.

Despite further pressure from the Foreign Office and Treasury earlier this year, the position of the Cayman Islands now seems to have been accepted by Grant Shapps, a Foreign Office minister.

On a visit last week, Shapps said he believed the aims of helping tax authorities could achieved within the Cayman Islands’ existing systems and argued “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”.

“Now, in terms of beneficial ownership the principle’s really straight forward. There needs to be, certainly for law enforcement agencies and bodies, the ability to find out who owns what in a transparent way, and not only for that information to be quickly and efficiently available so a single request could go in and the information can be provided,” Shapps told a press conference.

Under the Cayman Islands plan, there would be no government-held register, but corporate service providers would have to make available information on company ownership to law enforcement agencies within 24 hours of a request being made.

Shapps himself tweeted that the Treasury had only ever expected overseas territories to set out timetables for either central registries “or similarly effective systems” by November 2015.