29 January 2015
The ultimate owners of companies’ names will have to be kept on a register, as mandatory, in each EU country.
As part of the fourth anti-money laundering directive (AMLD), EU member states will, for the first time, be obliged to keep central registers of information on the ultimate ‘beneficial’ owners of corporate and other legal entities, as well as trusts. A ‘beneficial’ owner actually owns or controls a company and its activities and ultimately authorises transactions, whether such ownership is exercised directly or by a proxy.
The registers will be open to both the authorities and to people with a ‘legitimate interest’, such as journalists, under a Parliament/Council deal endorsed by the Economic and Monetary Affairs and Civil Liberties committees.
The new anti-money laundering directive aims to help to fight money laundering, tax crimes and terrorist financing. New rules to make it easier to trace transfers of funds were also approved.
The central registers will be accessible to the authorities and their financial intelligence units (without any restriction), to ‘obliged entities’ (such as banks conducting their ‘customer due diligence’ duties), and also to the public (although public access may be subject to online registration of the person requesting it and to a fee to cover administrative costs).
To access a register, a person will in any event have to demonstrate a ‘legitimate interest’ in suspected money laundering, terrorist financing and in ‘predicate’ offences that may help to finance them, such as corruption, tax crimes and fraud.
These persons (e.g. investigative journalists) could access information such as the beneficial owner's name, month and year of birth, nationality, country of residence and details of ownership. Any exemption to the access provided by member states will be possible only ‘on a case-by-case basis, in exceptional circumstances’.
These central registers were not envisaged in the European Commission’s initial proposal, but were included by MEPs in negotiations. The text also requires banks, auditors, lawyers, real estate agents and casinos, among others, to be more vigilant about suspicious transactions made by their clients.