A Study in Contrasts: Public Beneficial Ownership Registers vs. Europe’s GDPR – The Transcript
So we've reached the final stretch.
Here's the transcript for the final panel discussion at Taxlinked's second annual international tax conference held in Barcelona last October.
A huge thank you to our panelists:
- Jimmy Sexton, CEO, Esquire Group, UAE & USA
- David Martinez, Business Integrity and Transparency Manager, Transparency International, Spain
- Lara Malaeb, Director of Business Development & Marketing, RAK International Corporate Centre, UAE
- Filippo Noseda, Partner, Mishcon de Reya, and Visiting Professor, King's College, UK
Please feel free to download the full transcript below and check out some of the event's main highlights!
What are your general views on public registers of beneficial ownership? What's the rationale behind making the registers public and does the public have a legitimate interest in the information contained in the register?
Lara Malaeb: "I don't think the public are interested in having a UBO register that's publicly available. It's mainly for the tax authorities. I believe this whole story started after the Paradise Papers and the Panama Papers, the move towards transparency and all these offshore centres now under the spotlight… And for the people, they're not that interested in knowing what others have, whether they have assets anywhere in the world. It's mainly for tax authorities."
Jimmy Sexton: "I don't think the Panama Papers or Lux Leaks or any of them are a good reason for transparency because the only thing all these leaks proved was that 99.9% of all businesses are legitimate. All those Panama Papers and everything, they were just a shame game. A lot of the stuff that they unveiled was like Sheik Khalifa had a yacht in an offshore company. Well, who cares? He doesn't have to pay tax anyway; he didn't do anything illegal. Most of this stuff was completely legitimate. So I think the answer is no, the public does not have a legitimate interest in this information at all. And I would go so far as to say the real reason for these registers has nothing to do with the public other than to shame the wealthy because there's a war on wealth right now and the governments want to try to say, 'Hey, these are the wealthy people that are responsible for your shitty lives poor people. These are the people that you need to get the money from to have a better life.'"
First of all, what are some of the major data protection challenges posed by the new GDPR rules, and also how can you reconcile public registers of beneficial ownership with GDPR?
Filippo Noseda: "My view is that it was pushed by political events, in particular, the life in the UK and the predicament of David Cameron because there is one crime which is worse than being a bad Prime Minister, because that crime we know the current prime minister is guilty of, is to be a rich Prime Minister, because there is a thing called class in the UK. And so the idea that you are a rich guy and there was another wonderful article in the FT saying that his main crime was to be a rich guy, there was something that had to be shared. And I think that is not the governments that wanted; that happened by politicians, then the legal department of the EU tried to push back, even the European Council tried to push back and said it's unacceptable. The European Data Protection Supervisor issued an opinion in which he said, "I can't agree with this," but because of the politics then within the European Parliament that was pushed through. I do not think that because the European governments and national governments tried actually to stop the 5th AML Directive but it didn't happen. But whatever the position is that we are now in a world through this 5th AML Directive where transparency is the basic law and privacy is a principle, no longer a right, that you must earn within a very limited text. And that to me is a complete U-turn on what the law should be at least after the Second World War in Western Europe."
David Martinez: "For example, in Spain, we transposed the GDPR last December and we have this Disposición Adicional Segunda, it's like at the end of the law. And they said, regarding to transparency versus the right to privacy, you have to go to the transparency law that is an ordinary law, not organic, the organic was the data protection. And they said in the Article 5 and Article 15, that is the right to access to information, that there could be some exceptions because you know that privacy is not an absolute right. So the authority has to comply with all the requisites that we know. I don't believe, and I don't want to believe that in Spain we're going to make this thing that you are twisting, because the Constitution it's so clear, it's like privacy is a fundamental right. I don't know how they are going to deal with that."