Corruption Crackdown in British Virgin Islands May Be the Start of Something Big
On January 18, 2021, the British government made a surprise announcement that they were convening an independent commission to investigate corruption, organized crime, and other governance failures in the British Virgin Islands. BVI is infamous for its shell companies, lax oversight, generous tax policies, and general friendliness to those seeking to evade taxes—legally or otherwise. It has also become the known site of some serious criminal allegations, including a $300 million cocaine ring that involved local police officers. As exposed in the Panama Papers and other leaks, BVI is the jurisdiction of choice for many nefarious activities.
The British government’s decision to crack down now comes amid a global wave of new sunshine laws meant to combat the moving of dark money. In the US as of this month, a new beneficial owner registry and a new anti-money laundering whistleblower program both will do a lot to stop the secretive movement of money. The UK similarly mandated the publication of beneficial ownership information in the last few years. Even the infamously secretive Switzerland recently mandated the disclosure of beneficial owner names. This latest investigation in BVI must be understood as part of the same trend.
The BVI crackdown is not going to happen without a fight. Shortly after the announcement, the public learned that the Governor’s Office (a British official) could not access the BVI’s official website, leading some to speculate of a strain between the local Premier and the Governor. A similar corruption inquiry in the Turks and Caicos led to the dissolution of the protectorate’s Cabinet and legislature in 2009. BVI could potentially face the same fate here.
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