”The natural person(s) who ultimately owns or controls a customer and/or the natural person on whose behalf a transaction is being conducted. It also includes those persons who exercise ultimate effective control over a legal person or arrangement.”1
A lack of clarity over who is the ultimate beneficial owner of a company or asset clouds the ability of banks and financial institutions to carry out these checks effectively, leaving them exposed to facilitating corruption or bribery, or unwittingly funding illegal or terrorist activities. The regulatory cost of such activities can include large fines and personal prosecution for directors of financial institutions.2
Beneficial ownership identification and verification is now an essential component of the client KYC on boarding process.3
The beneficial owner is the natural person who controls an account or who exercises ultimate control over legal arrangement or who benefits from the transaction.
Although title to property or money is in another name, the beneficial owner will ultimately benefit from the transaction at the end of the day.
Why would an individual choose to be the beneficial owner?
i)Privacy-In Trinidad and Tobago, the Companies Registry and Deeds Registry are public records and the names and addresses of directors can be easily searched, once the relevant fees are paid. High net worth persons and famous persons may not want their home address available on public record.
ii)Asset Protection-Wealthy individuals who are exposed to lawsuits, divorces or those involved in Money laundering (ML) or Terrorist Financing (TF) may not want to be associated with bank accounts or assets. Funds in the bank accounts of persons suspected of Ml/TF may be seized in Trinidad.
Scandals involving Ultimate Beneficial Ownership
The Panama Papers were published in 2016. They were essentially archives of a Panamanian law firm. These archives revealed the beneficial ownership of several thousands of offshore corporations. It seems that some beneficial ownership was hidden for nefarious or illegal motives. 4
Unaoil, a Monaco-based firm registered in the British Virgin Islands and its subcontractors allegedly bribed foreign officials to help major multinational corporations (MNCs) win contracts. This type of corruption leads to political instability, undermines trust in governments and help terrorists. 5 There is a view that if companies dealing with Unaoil sought insight into beneficial ownership, legal name, tradestyle(s), organizational structure, parent companies, names of all principals/officers and industry.
The author is an attorney at law in Trinidad and Tobago and she specializes in Anti Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism .
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