Panton proposes beneficial ownership deal

Government proposed what it calls a “centralized platform” for beneficial ownership information where service providers would keep the information and investigators would be able to access the data when necessary.

The proposal means the Cayman Islands government would not actually collect beneficial ownership information, but would rely on the private sector for access, Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton said Thursday.

Mr. Panton, along with several other government representatives, was in London last week for the annual Joint Ministerial Council meeting with other overseas territory ministers and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Beneficial ownership, while not on the official agenda, figured prominently in the talks and is something the U.K. is pushing Cayman and other territories to establish.

“Cayman is not going to have a central public registry,” Mr. Panton said Thursday at a press briefing. Beneficial ownership information includes who owns a company and who is making money from the business.

Mr. Panton, joined by his chief officer and several other top staffers, explained for the first time what he has proposed instead of the central public registry of beneficial ownership. He called the system a “centralized technology-based platform” that would allow government access to ownership information collected by service provided.

Essentially, the proposal gives government access to databases kept by every service provider and investigators can get beneficial ownership information from each separate database instead of regulators keeping their own database. Mr. Panton said the system would allow government to go into the databases without the service providers’ knowledge to access the information when they get a request from a foreign law enforcement or tax agency.

“We will be able to reach out and interrogate information from the corporate service providers,” the minister said.

This new platform would be a long-term solution, said said Dax Basdeo, chief officer for the Financial Services Ministry, said. The new system would require legislative changes to company secrecy laws, which he said he expects will come out in the middle of 2016.

Over the next six months, Mr. Basdeo said, some smaller changes will help improve how Cayman shares these types of information with authorities overseas. He said the changes will help improve the framework for filling foreign information requests.

Mr. Panton said he invited law enforcement officials from the U.K. to Cayman to examine the current system and to discuss ways to make getting information easier for investigators.

“The U.K. wanted someone on the ground,” the minister said, to keep an eye on the beneficial ownership information. Instead, he said, regulators may dedicate a person locally to the requests or give priority to U.K. investigations so they can get information quicker.

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