The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) regards access to accurate information regarding beneficial ownership as critical to the effective deterrence of criminal activities that could be obscured by corporate structures.
In 2014, FATF published a guidance paper, ‘Transparency and Beneficial Ownership’, aimed at assisting countries in implementing measures to address Recommendations 24 and 25 relating to transparency and beneficial ownership of legal persons (R24) and arrangements
In the wake of the Panama papers, many APAC countries have since implemented an array of legal and regulatory instruments aimed at improving information disclosure, including the establishment of centralized ultimate beneficial ownership registers. The intention
is to further lift the veil on beneficial ownership in the region and potentially enhance information sharing on a global scale.
Singapore and Hong Kong are currently leading the way in terms of implementation, with both jurisdictions opting for a register with limited accessibility. In Singapore, the Companies (Amendment) Act 2017, effective since March 31st, 2017, states that all
companies incorporated in Singapore and foreign companies must keep a register of registrable controllers (defined at the FATF-recommended 25% threshold) at prescribed places.
Meanwhile in tandem with an increased enforcement focus, Hong Kong's Financial Services and Treasury Bureau (FSTB) has introduced a number of proposed AML reforms as part of its Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing (Financial Institutions)
Ordinance (AMLO), which came into force on March 1st, 2018. The Companies (Amendment) Ordinance 2018 came into force on March 1st, 2018.
Australia, New Zealand and Japan have begun to take tentative steps towards implementing beneficial ownership registers but there is no sign yet of any firm legislation taking shape. In Malaysia, companies are required to maintain basic ownership information
and these are available to the public.
Beneficial ownership requirements do not operate in a vacuum, but in tandem with other jurisdictional regulations. It may be some time before we see an APAC country opting for a public beneficial ownership register, but with the 5th EU Money Laundering Directive
due to make this mandatory in every EU member state from mid-2019, Asia-Pacific may gradually follow suit.