Cayman breathes sigh of relief after ‘high risk’ list is withdraw

Published by : The Royal Gazette

A Bermuda business chief yesterday refused to capitalise on Caymanian woes over landing on a UK list of “high risk” countries for financial crime.

The Caymans spent less than two months on the 95-strong list UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) of places regarded as potential crime hot spots — but the head of the Caribbean island yesterday admitted it was hard to tell if it had deterred investors. Gonzalo Jalles, CEO of Cayman Finance, the main industry body, said it would be “very difficult” to say if the issue had damaged the Caymans.

He added he did not think it caused any firm to leave the jurisdiction. But the attention, he suggested, could have caused prospective entrants to look elsewhere. Mr Jalles said: “How much business we’ve lost during this two months because of this is impossible to say.” Mr Jalles was speaking after the FCA withdrew the list after the Caymans — using a Freedom of Information request — forced the FCA to make the list public.

But Bermuda Business Development Agency chief Ross Webber said: “Bermuda’s absence from the initial publication of ‘high risk’ jurisdictions is a testimony to the fact that we have always operated with prudence and integrity. “Cayman were on the list and the list got pulled by the FCA.

“Bermuda, simply, was not on the list at all. “It is sometimes difficult to know, explain or justify what methodology is used by other nations in the compilation of their lists or ratings. “With this in mind, we choose to maintain our course and walk the high ground. “While we are conscious of complying with international standards, it is internationally recognised that Bermuda has always adhered to the most appropriate and pragmatic levels of compliance, ethics and corporate governance.” According to ratings agency AM Best, Mr Jalles said: “I don’t think the [FCA’s] methodology was properly thought through.” Mr Jalles added he would like to see details of the FCA’s approach and get an idea of how the UK regulator plans to offer risk assessments of other jurisdictions. And he said: “We want to make sure that Cayman is properly assessed everywhere we can.” Mr Jalles added that the financial services industry accounted for about half of Cayman’s gross domestic product and said he suspected the FCA had tagged this high proportion as a risk factor. But he insisted that size limited per-transaction risk by generating the revenue needed to support effective regulation. He added, however, that “unless we see the [FCA’s] methodology, I can’t really say that’s the problem” with the regulator’s process.

The UK regulator, the Cayman government said in a statement, “has committed to a full review of the methodology that resulted in the Cayman Islands being placed on the list”.

The Cayman government said it had been in contact with the FCA since it raised the issue in a letter to the FCA on July 8. The FCA confirmed: “The information published related to a specific freedom of information request. There are no plans to replace the information on our website.” The FCA, which declined to comment on its statement, said companies seeking information “on country risk can access a broad range of publicly available information and indices.” Among these, the regulator said, are the UK.

Treasury’s sanctions list and material published by the UK government on overseas business risk. The FCA’s list attracted wide attention in August 2014 when the Cayman Islands government complained about its inclusion on it.

The Cayman government had obtained the list as a result of a freedom of information request. The UK regulator had intended the list for internal use. Wayne Panton, the Cayman minister of financial services, said in August the government was “considering all options,” including court action, in its effort to get off the list.

Criticism of the FCA also came from the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, which described the listing as a “deliberate and misguided attempt to smear Cayman’s reputation and credibility as one of the world’s best regulated jurisdictions”. Mr Jalles said any further action would now be up to the Cayman government. “At this state,” he said, “I think it’s one-to-one discussions.” He added further options could be a freedom of information request for the FCA’s methodology. Mr Jalles also raised a possible move toward a judicial review. But he added: “I wouldn’t go that far.”

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