The Government of the Virgin Islands has made a significant announcement regarding its position on the implementation of publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership, commonly known as PARBOs. This decision comes against the backdrop of commitments made by Overseas Territories (OTs) and Crown Dependencies to adopt PARBOs in line with the EU Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive.
- European Court of Justice Ruling Impact: A recent ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) emphasized privacy and data protection as fundamental human rights. This has altered the international context regarding publicly accessible registers.
- Virgin Islands’ Consideration of ECJ Judgment: Although not directly under the ECJ’s jurisdiction, the Virgin Islands government is taking the ECJ judgment into account. This is to minimize potential legal challenges based on human rights considerations.
- Implementation with Human Rights in Focus: Hon. Lorna Smith, the Minister for Financial Services, Labour and Trade, highlighted the need for a ‘legitimate interest test’ to access beneficial ownership information. This ensures that requests are strictly for preventing money laundering and terrorist financing.
- Proactive Role in Financial Integrity: The Virgin Islands has been actively involved in preventing the misuse of its financial sector. The government emphasizes balancing transparency with respect for international law.
- Commitment to International Standards: Despite these new considerations, the Virgin Islands remains committed to implementing a PARBO. The approach will align with the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive while ensuring compliance with human rights obligations.
- Collaboration and Leadership: The Virgin Islands continues to be a key player in global efforts against financial crime. The government cited its information exchange agreement with the UK, instrumental in freezing assets under the Russian sanctions regime, as an example of its commitment.
- Ongoing Global Engagement: The Government plans to maintain engagement with the UK and other international partners to align with evolving standards and best practices in implementing PARBOs.
In summary, the Virgin Islands is taking a cautious yet committed approach to implementing publicly accessible registers of beneficial ownership, carefully balancing international commitments with the need to protect fundamental human rights.