By Dan Byrne for AMLi
A UK politician has acknowledged his country’s recently faltering AML reputation, but praised the strides made in beneficial ownership over the last several years.
Lord Tariq Ahmad of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office called on all nations to do all they can to ensure transparency and accountability are part of every organisation’s response to the virus.
He championed his own government’s strides in this effort, acknowledging that the UK was the first nation to open a free-to-access public register on beneficial ownership.
He also praised upcoming legislation in the UK which will require overseas companies to publish their beneficial owners if they own or buy property in the UK.
It could be seen as a direct response to the recent criticisms that the country has been facing regarding its AML performance.
Documents related to the FinCEN files saw the UK labelled as a ‘higher-risk jurisdiction’ for money laundering, due in part to its lax beneficial ownership laws which make the country a more attractive base for financial criminals.
Ahmad himself acknowledged those criticisms, as well as the proof in form of lavish British properties – mostly in London – which have been bought by various criminals through anonymous companies, and which have helped in channelling dirty money.
Nevertheless, he was firm in his announcement that both the UK and its many overseas territories would have publicly accessible beneficial ownership registers by 2023.
In addition, he noted the country’s presence at the international level as a guide for other nations such as Nigeria and Armenia.
Officials from both nations were also present and spoke of the developments in reforming their beneficial ownership transparency.
Armenian Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan announced his country intended to clean up monitoring capacity so that it could match laws for AML and CTF which are already in place.
Meanwhile, Nigerian Budget and National Planning minister Prince Clem Agba announced that his country intends to join the international Beneficial Ownership Leadership Group – a young initiative set up to bring about policy change on BO worldwide.
This announcement has been welcomed by colleagues in the AML industry.
The Transparency vs Privacy Debate
In the face of increasing desires for public transparency over beneficial ownership and the legal strides being made, there is a question over how these balance with the right to privacy.
Armenia Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan affirmed his country’s commitment to the transparency side of the argument.
“Anything which raises concerns about data protection should be covered under the law, but should not affect transparency overall,” he said.
Tariq Ahmad spoke to the importance of both principles, and of finding the balance between the two. He acknowledged that the task would be a difficult one which would need a reliable timescale to solve.
“It’s very easy to say ‘we must do this by the end of the year’, but a reasonable timescale is important. Otherwise, it just becomes a statement of intent,” he said.
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