BLOG: Jersey's private ownership register could be made public

The government is working on a new 'action plan' which is keeping the prospect of making the register public an active option Credit: ITV Channel TV

Jersey's private register of who owns which companies in the island could be made public.

I understand Jersey's government is giving serious consideration to changing its position, which is currently that the register is accessible by other countries' tax authorities and law enforcement agencies.

Until now it's been argued making such information public could lead to high net worth individuals being put at risk of kidnap, ransom and blackmail. Indeed, that's exactly what Jersey Finance told me was a reason for the secrecy when I reported on the issue last year.

The government is working on a new 'action plan' which is keeping the prospect of making the register public an active option.

It follows months of political pressure from the UK, particularly from Labour MP Margaret Hodge and Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell who argue transparency is essential for good governance.

Last week's JEP reprinted an article from the late Colin Powell, a long time advisor to Jersey's government, in which he made the following notable observation.

There is a danger that the economic success of the past 50 years has bred apathy and a failure to recognise sufficiently the importance for future success of continuing to sustain a good international reputation by early recognition of the direction of travel globally and complying with the international standards of transparency and information exchange in the fight against all forms of financial crime.

– Colin Powell, advisor to Jersey's government

Until now, Jersey's approach has been to meet current standards and keep an eye on future developments, but has been resistant to calls for the register to be made public. Finance accounts for around 40% of Jersey's economy. A power house. Any change that could give it a competitive disadvantage (why use Jersey when you can maintain your confidentiality elsewhere?) would likely be strongly resisted by industry unless it was a multilateral move.

Any change in policy would be reliant on both Guernsey and the Isle of Man following suit, something - so far - there has been no public indication they would be minded to do.

In March, 40 UK MPs wrote a letter calling on the Crown Dependencies to 'go public'. At the time, Guernsey's Chief Minister Gavin St Pier responded:

'We are part of the solution to the global problem of financial crime. As evaluated by international bodies, we should be judged objectively by our high standards and our robust and effective approach in combating financial crime.'

– Gavin St Pier, Guernsey's Chief Minister

When Jersey's policy on registers was announced a year ago, External Relations Minister Ian Gorst said:

Jersey is a leading jurisdiction in matters of transparency and in the prevention of financial crime and money laundering, for which we have been recognised by the OECD, MONEYVAL and the Financial Action Task Force. We remain fully committed to the global fight against financial crime, and a high quality beneficial ownership register is central to that.

– Ian Gorst, External Relations Minister

It is worth noting both politicians, while highlighting the islands' good governance and approaches, both left wiggle room for them to change their positions in future.

As I understand it, that time has come. And Jersey could be the first to make the change.

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