At a macro level, the dominant trend affecting the private wealth arena in the last 12 months continues to be the impact of various supranational initiatives seeking greater transparency with respect to anti-money laundering regimes and tax information exchange. I propose to focus in this year's introduction on the central importance of the concept of 'beneficial ownership' and the theme of convergence in the increasingly interconnected arenas of anti-money laundering policy and tax information exchange.

The clearest examples of this trend can be found in the introduction of centralised beneficial ownership registers, especially in the European Union and the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom (generally collectively referenced as CDOTs).1

There are two specific manifestations of this:

  1. corporate beneficial ownership registers; and
  2. trust beneficial ownership registers.

In parallel, 2017 has witnessed the first substantive reporting by the first wave 'adopters' of the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) in the context of the 2016 calendar year.

I would like to first reference the common definitions that connect CRS with beneficial ownership registers and then refer in detail to the UK domestic trust register that was introduced by Regulations adopted in June 20172 (2017 MLR) before noting some key developments in the CRS domain.

i Common use of beneficial ownership concept

The key 'source document' with respect to the concept of beneficial ownership is the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) 2012 Recommendations.3 These recommendations were introduced as part of the international anti-money laundering policy but have been adopted as an essential element of the international tax information exchange policy implemented by the CRS.

This is clearly confirmed in a CRS context by the CRS Commentary on the concept of controlling persons. Paragraph 132 of the interpretive notes to Recommendation 10 on Customer Due Diligence, states:

Subparagraph D(6) sets forth the definition of the term 'Controlling Persons'. This term corresponds to the term 'beneficial owner' as described in Recommendation 10 and the Interpretative Note on Recommendation 10 of the Financial Action Task Force Recommendations (as adopted in February 2012), 13 and must be interpreted in a manner consistent with such Recommendations, with the aim of protecting the international financial system from misuse including with respect to tax crimes.4

The FATF recommendations lead to a position where one essentially moves away from a strict legal definition of who might be entitled to enjoyment of an asset as a beneficial owner to an expanded concept. Under these rules, if it is not possible to identify a beneficial owner based on 'ownership interests' it is necessary to identify a beneficial owner based on 'control' even though the person or persons who control a legal entity have no capacity to call for the assets of the entity for their own personal benefit. In addition, as a last resort, if no 'ownership' or 'control' test can be satisfied, the final step is to look to the 'senior managing official' of the entity at the top of the ownership chain. This three-level ordering of who is to be regarded as the 'beneficial owner' is taken from the interpretive notes to Recommendation 10 of the FATF 2012 Recommendations:5

Identify the beneficial owners of the customer and take reasonable measures to verify the identity of such persons, through the following information:

(i) For legal persons:
(i.i) The identity of the natural persons (if any – as ownership interests can be so diversified that there are no natural persons (whether acting alone or together) exercising control of the legal person or arrangement through ownership) who ultimately have a controlling ownership interest in a legal person; and
(i.ii) to the extent that there is doubt under (i.i) as to whether the person(s) with the controlling ownership interest are the beneficial owner(s) or where no natural person exerts control through ownership interests, the identity of the natural persons (if any) exercising control of the legal person or arrangement through other means.
(i.iii) Where no natural person is identified under (i.i) or (i.ii) above, financial institutions should identify and take reasonable measures to verify the identity of the relevant natural person who holds the position of senior managing official.

The immediately following interpretive notes describe the steps to be taken to identify the beneficial ownership of a trust (or similar legal arrangement such as a foundation). In this case the approach is subtly different. They start with a composite list that blends together those who might benefit personally with those who are perceived to have some 'control'. They state:

For legal arrangements:
(ii.i) Trusts – the identity of the settlor, the trustee(s), the protector (if any), the beneficiaries or class of beneficiaries, and any other natural person exercising ultimate effective control over the trust (including through a chain of control/ownership);
(ii.ii) Other types of legal arrangements – the identity of persons in equivalent or similar positions.

What is notable here is the introduction of a 'residual' concept of:

Any other natural person exercising ultimate effective control over the trust

I will refer to this as the 'NPEEC' in the rest of this article.

Until recently, there has been a major problem with construing who might be regarded as an NPEEC in a trust context especially because there has been no guidance in a FATF or CRS context that sheds light on what is meant by 'control'. This has created uncertainty as to when a person has 'control' over a trust, for example, will it include someone who has power to remove a trustee, someone who can only exercise powers jointly with someone else or someone who holds only powers of veto rather than positive powers to act.

In the Anti-Money Laundering context, the 2017 MLR includes a definition of 'beneficial owner' and 'control' for the purposes of the Regulations. At Regulation 6 it states:

6.—(1) In these Regulations, 'beneficial owner', in relation to a trust, means each of the following—
(a) the settlor;
(b) the trustees;
(c) the beneficiaries
(d) where the individuals (or some of the individuals) benefiting from the trust have not been determined, the class of persons in whose main interest the trust is set up, or operates;
(e) any individual who has control over the trust.
(2) In paragraph (1)(e), 'control' means a power (whether exercisable alone, jointly with another person or with the consent of another person) under the trust instrument or by law to—
(a) dispose of, advance, lend, invest, pay or apply trust property;
(b) vary or terminate the trust;
(c) add or remove a person as a beneficiary or to or from a class of beneficiaries;
(d) appoint or remove trustees or give another individual control over the trust;
(e) direct, withhold consent to or veto the exercise of a power mentioned in sub-paragraphs (a) to (d).

A critical point to note here is that the mere existence of one of the relevant powers with respect to a trust is sufficient to be regarded as control even in circumstances where that power is not actually exercised. This is substantially different from the idea of a person who exercises effective management of a trust or a company in many tax contexts, The more conventional concept is a facts and circumstances test that requires the actual exercise of powers rather than the mere capacity to exercise them for control to be attributed to a person.

What is striking here is that in Regulation 6(2), both the holding of joint powers and that the withholding of consent or ability to veto the exercise of key powers is to be equated with 'control'. I will return to the specific implications for CRS Reporting in the context of trusts later – for now, it is sufficient to note the expansive definition of beneficial ownership which sits behind the various regimes.

A final point to note is that the scope of powers that can be held with respect to a trust that come within this incredibly wide concept of control extend substantially beyond the power to appoint and remove trustees. Thus powers that relate to changing the class of beneficiaries, varying or terminating the trust and powers to invest or deal with trust property are also to be equated with control.

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1. These jurisdictions includes Jersey, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Cayman Islands, Bermuda and British Virgin Islands.

2. To give them their full title, 2017 No. 692, The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017.

3. FATF/OECD (2013), International Standards on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism and Proliferation, The FATF Recommendations February 2012, FATF/OECD, Paris, available on www.fatf-gafi.org/media/fatf/documents/recommendations/pdfs/FATF_Recommendations.pdf.

4. Emphasis added.

5. FATF/OECD (2013), International Standards on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism and Proliferation, The FATF Recommendations February 2012, FATF/OECD, Paris, available on www.fatf-gafi.org/media/fatf/documents/recommendations/pdfs/FATF_Recommendations.pdf at pages 61-62.

Originally published by Law Business Research.

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