Premier Alden McLaughlin and a six-member Cayman Islands delegation attended Tuesday afternoon’s opening session of the three-day annual Joint Ministerial Council in London.
Ongoing questions of beneficial ownership, while not on the formal agenda, are expected to be among the more contentious subjects addressed in private meetings among the group of 12 Overseas Territories and Foreign and Commonwealth Office leaders.
The council is meeting Tuesday and Wednesday at Lancaster House, hosted by U.K. Minister for Overseas Territories James Duddridge.
Leaders “will have discussions with ministers from a range of U.K. government departments,” the FCO said.
This year’s agenda includes child safeguarding, economic development and setting a vision for the U.K. and the Overseas Territories in 2030.
“It is vitally important that we attend the JMC each year to keep the Cayman Islands in the forefront,” Mr. McLaughlin said before the meeting. “Through our participation, we can ensure that Cayman remains in the global spotlight and continues to build sustainable economies, create jobs and drive prosperity.”
“Once we do these things, we can ensure a better quality of life for our citizens and visitors,” he added.
While few agenda items are likely to prove controversial, Mr. McLaughlin led the Political Council in discussions of beneficial ownership – defined as someone who enjoys the benefits of owning an enterprise, yet whose name may not be on a company’s title.
Cayman in particular has come under pressure from the U.K. in recent years to reverse long-standing legal practice and publish the names of beneficial owners. The moves are part of efforts by the G-8, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Financial Action Task Force to counter money laundering, bribery and corruption, insider dealings, tax fraud and terrorist financing.
In its 46-page 2014 guidance “Transparency and Beneficial Ownership,” FATF said “the misuse of corporate vehicles could be significantly reduced if information regarding both the legal owner and the beneficial owner, the source of the corporate vehicle’s assets, and its activities were readily available.”
Cayman provides beneficial ownership documents to law-enforcement agencies, but has resisted public release as part of privacy statutes supporting business confidentiality.
In a Nov. 26 statement to the Legislative Assembly, Mr. McLaughlin reviewed 2013 efforts by the U.K. and the G-8 for a public, central register of beneficial ownership, adding that “just last week,” Mr. Duddridge had said the U.K. was seeking “direct access” by law-enforcement agencies to beneficial ownership information in both Cayman and other Overseas Territories.
“This is not something to which the Cayman Islands can agree,” the premier told the assembly.
Citing “established mechanisms” for gaining access to the register,” Mr. McLaughlin said, “the information concerned does not belong to the Cayman Islands government,” but “is property of the owners of the respective legal entities.
“There is no country in the world that allows unrestricted access to beneficial ownership information by the law-enforcement agencies of another country.”
To reveal the information without proper applications or having “cross-checked and verified” it “would place the Cayman Islands at a competitive disadvantage with other jurisdictions that do not permit unfettered access to beneficial ownership,” the premier said.
“We will not agree to a public register unless and until that becomes the global standard and all of our competitors also subscribe to that standard,” he told legislators.
Before Monday’s Political Council meeting, Mr. McLaughlin and Minister for Financial Services, Commerce and Environment Wayne Panton hosted the annual reception at the Cayman Islands Government London office for U.K.-based Caymanian university students.
“Being in a room surrounded by the future of the Cayman Islands is a poignant reminder of why we are here and the importance of what we are striving to achieve during this week at the JMC,” said the premier, urging the group to take full advantage of potential apprenticeship and training opportunities while in the U.K.
The premier left Cayman for London on Nov. 27, to attend a Political Council meeting – a gathering of Overseas Territories ministers – on Nov. 30. In a formal statement, he said it was “critical going into the JMC … that, wherever feasible, we as Overseas Territories, speak with one voice especially on areas of mutual interest, so this meeting is in essence our final tune-up before we sit with the U.K. government.”
On Thursday, following the JMC, Mr. McLaughlin will speak at an invitation-only dinner for current and potential Friends of Cayman.
“We will not agree to a public register unless and until that becomes the global standard …” Alden McLaughlin, premier