UK orders crackdown on offshore tax havens

The UK government agreed yesterday to order its overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands to make secretive company ownership information public by the end of 2020 to try to tackle corruption and tax avoidance.

The move was hailed as a major victory by campaigners in the fight against tax avoidance and money laundering.

“This is the news we have been waiting for,” said Simon Kirkland, a campaigner at Christian Aid. “This is a major step forward in the fight against the tax avoidance, evasion and corruption that costs developing countries so dearly.”

Overseas territories and crown dependencies have come under increasing pressure to reveal who is behind anonymously owned companies, with campaign groups saying such secrecy aids money laundering, tax evasion and corrupt diversion of public funds from developing economies.

Several politicians in the ruling Conservative party teamed up with opposition Labour lawmakers to back the changes, which were first pushed by former Prime Minister David Cameron, but resisted by the overseas territories.

Many of these territories have large financial services sectors because they levy low taxes and ownership of businesses lacks transparency.

Despite repeated calls for more openness, British crown dependencies and overseas territories are only required to reveal information on the true owners of offshore companies to law enforcement bodies, and then only if asked.

Yesterday, Alan Duncan, a UK junior minister, told parliament the government would support a call for a central register of company ownership in these territories. (Reuters)

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