Europe under pressure to overturn ban on public access to beneficial ownership information

Representatives of civil society, media and academia from across the Europe and beyond are lobbying European Union (EU) legislators to restore the right of individuals holding a legitimate interest to access Europe’s ultimate beneficial ownership (UBO) registers. Such individuals include journalists, civil society organisations and higher education institutions.

These individuals were banned from accessing the register after a decision published last November by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) invalidated a provision of the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive that guaranteed public access to information on companies’ real owners (Trade-based Financial Crime, 30 November 2022).

Overturning the ban

Last month two key committees of the European Parliament voted to have Europe’s ultimate beneficial ownership (UBO) registers reopened to people holding a legitimate interest (Trade-based Financial Crime, 26 April 2023).

The European Parliament and the European Council are expected to decide this month whether or not to lift the ban.

Open letter

In an open letter to Mairead McGuinness, European commissioner for financial services, financial stability and capital markets union, the representatives of civil society, media and academia are calling for strong provisions for meaningful stakeholder access to beneficial ownership registers.

The letter spearheaded by Transparency International acknowledges that the EU legislated in 2015 and then again in 2018 with its anti-money laundering directive to establish and then widen stakeholder access to information on companies’ real owners.

But it says the impact of these measures was just becoming visible when last November the CJEU “delivered a surprise ruling invalidating public access provisions and reinstating the previous directive where access to beneficial ownership data was based on legitimate interest.”

Ensuring UBO access

The letter points out that the CJEU itself recognised that “journalists and civil society organisations involved in the prevention of money laundering and its predicate offences have legitimate interest in accessing the information.”

It concludes that “EU legislators need to now spell out the modalities to ensure that such stakeholders have, in practice, access to beneficial ownership information without having to demonstrate their legitimate interest on a case-by-case basis.”

The full text of the Open letter to Mairead McGuinness, European Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union can be found here.


Categories: Trade Based Financial crimes News

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