Jersey has bowed to criticism unleashed by the Panama Papers by agreeing to provide company financial data within 24 hours of a request from UK authorities, or an hour if the demand is urgent and linked to terrorism.
With all offshore financial centres under fire for facilitating tax avoidance following the Panama Papers revelations, Ian Gorst, the island’s chief minister will sign a deal to open up its central register of beneficial ownership, which details who owns which companies based on the island.
The agreement is due to be formally sealed with British ministers on Tuesday, the Jersey government says.
The move follows the huge leak of millions of documents from a Panama law firm, which exposed how wealthy politicians and plutocrats are using offshore financial centres to hide their wealth.
Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Labour party leader, initially called for direct rule to be imposed on UK offshore centres, such as Jersey, if they continued to act as tax havens for the rich.
This followed the disclosure in the Panama Papers that there were more than 100,000 secret firms registered in the British Virgin Islands, one of the UK’s 12 overseas territories or former colonial outposts with independent constitutions where the UK still provides defence guarantees.
As a crown dependency — represented by the Queen rather than the UK parliament — Jersey, along with Guernsey and the Isle of Man, has its own executive and legislature, a separate courts system and, crucially for the financial services industry, its own independent regulator.
Mr Gorst says that the new arrangement will allow UK authorities to share details from Jersey’s Central Register of Beneficial Ownership, which is operated by the Jersey Financial Services Commission.
In the House of Commons on Monday, David Cameron said all the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories — with the exception of Guernsey and Anguilla — had agreed to sign up to the new deal to set up a register of beneficial ownership, which will give law enforcement and tax authorities transparent access to offshore companies.
In November, the 12 overseas territories issued a joint communique with the UK government “to hold beneficial ownership information in our respective jurisdictions via central registers or similarly effective systems”.
Ahead of that meeting, the UK Foreign Office wrote to the overseas territories setting out its demands for additional measures to guarantee that information on company ownership was available to the authorities without having to submit multiple requests.
Another demand was that companies or their beneficial owners must not be alerted to the fact that an investigation is under way.
But tax campaigners and Labour politicians want to see a public registry system, which would provide details on beneficial ownership to the press and public.
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