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CEO's Ruminations: Privacy Vs Security

‘Was the season to be, well, concerned, curious, frightened and a touch pissed off.

Bah humbug, you say? Turn on the TV to watch some “fake news”, play with your Twitter feed to enjoy the non-stop, off-the-cuff commentary of The Donald, read a bit about Brexit or “The Rocket Man”, evaluate your portfolio against the backdrop of free money economic development or…I hope you got the picture.

Nevermind, the globe continues to spin and life sallies forth, perhaps with fear and loathing, but also oozing with enthusiastic human optimism and belief that tomorrow always will be better.

With that in mind, I turned my one finger-typing prowess to my keyboard targeting an issue that pits the age-old belief in “privacy and confidentiality” against the non-stop fight against crime or that matter just downright naughty behavior.

Ponder this one while recovering from the festivities and slipping back into the old office routine with your new year resolution shadowing you.

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” – Ophray Winfrey

Did I just quote the so called Queen of TV Talk Shows?

Oh my, I definitely think it is happy hour somewhere as I clearly need a drink…or a dozen!!!

Does privacy and confidentiality trump legitimate, non-law enforcement inquiries into potential crime?

This question has been posed ever more frequently in recent rubber-chicken luncheons of regulators, law enforcement bodies and lawyers/accountants in relation to drug trafficking, terrorism, cyber-hacking, tax evasion, financial fraud and all manner of sophisticated white collar crime.

The answers have varied from yes to no to maybe and every permutation of the same that may exist between the white, black and gray proferred by the self-proclaimed geniuses who constantly debate the issue.

I encounter this Q&A every week, if not more often, when fielding inquiries from our clients who are facing the seemingly impenetrable wall off offshore confidentiality.

Offshore, of course, is improperly accorded mostly to small Caribbean and South Pacific jurisdictions that market and sell all types of perfectly legitimate corporate vehicles, trust relationships and other “structures” that assist global business people, high networth individuals and large multinationals to maximize their financial returns in a tax-effective, private and confidential manner. Sadly, one rarely hears mention of the largest offshore jurisdiction, i.e. Delaware, in such conversations as, well, it enjoys the warm and cuddly protection of Uncle Sam and the Weapon of Mass Destruction, i.e. the US Dollar. Alas, I digress…

Returning to the subject, I decided to take a peak at the issue in a more narrow context of the jurisdiction which seems to plague our clients the most. That is the tiny, sun-drenched, sandy beach dominated, British Overseas Territory aptly named the British Virgin Islands or BVI as it is better known.

Sincere apologies to the BVI in advance, but it is what it is – our clients’ complaints largely focus on this hugely successful, and equally maligned, offshore jurisdiction.

The focus of such grievances usually shine a light on the presumed, unassailable confidentiality of BVI Business Companies (previously known as International Business Companies or IBCs).

No doubt, privacy and confidentiality are important selling points of BVI Business Companies. In fact, the BVI Financial Services Commission, the financial services regulator in the territory, states in relevant part on its website that

“The establishment of the Commission also ensures a commitment by the BVI to play its part in the fight against cross border white collar crime while safeguarding the privacy and confidentiality of legitimate business transactions.” (bold letters added by me for emphasis)

You will notice “safeguarding…privacy and confidentiality” rubs shoulders with “fight against cross border white-collar crime” as though the concepts are comfortable bed-fellows.

Not so says the client seeking to determine “who is behind that BVI Business Company that just swallowed (while rudely burping) my entire retirement nest-egg?” These sort of inquiries flood my desk as law enforcement fails to address the potential crime in a timely and effective manner. I know they try, but success is usually a day late and a dollar short.

I know answering the question will be an uphill battle. I always inform our clients quite candidly that the hoped for pot of gold at the end of this hardly sparkling rainbow will not be easily obtained. However, I-OnAsia has a team of skilled sleuths with decades of experience as formerly licensed persons in virtually every offshore jurisdiction on the planet including the BVI.

Simply stated, we know how to approach the issue of slowly, albeit purposefully, chipping away at the confidential veneer of the BVI Business Company. No, we do not necessarily rely upon whistleblowers of licensed firms in the jurisdictions, albeit we cautiously welcome such offers.

Our multi-pronged strategy starts with obtaining information via legitimate searches in the BVI that uncover the essential elements of the relevant Business Company’s incorporation, such as the licensed Registered Agent. In some instances, the identities of the Directors and Members of the BVI Business Company may be available. If not, then we always can petition local authorities to access such information from the Company Registry.

We, of course, would love to access the non-public search platform called BOSS (Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System), but such privileges, at least to date, are the sole province of the BVI authorities such as the previously referenced Financial Services Commission.

Regardless, the foundation is set for our assault as we use this information, along with our client’s complaints, to encourage assistance from relevant regulatory bodies, law enforcement, licensed persons, media (witness the impact of the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers), banks and any other organization willing to grant us an audience to press forward with our legitimate inquiries.

This is only the beginning of our efforts to hold the BVI Financial Services Commission, its licensed practitioners and investigative agencies in the Territory (as well as the United Kingdom authories with significant influence if not ultimate oversight) to the promise of ensuring “privacy and confidentiality” does NOT trump the lawful “fight against cross border white-collar crime”.

Or, for that matter, any criminal or even immoral conduct improperly inflicted upon our clients.

I believe the unrelenting effort and surprising victory of David over Goliath is not simply the stuff of Biblical lore.

Such unrelenting effort is I-OnAsia’s commitment to our clients facing seemingly unbeatable offshore privacy and confidentiality…let us be your David!!!

Happy New Year !!!

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