The British Government Anti-Corruption Summit in London is set for ridicule as the British Virgin Islands has rebuffed calls by the Prime Minister, David Cameron for British overseas territories and crown dependencies to publish details of who owns offshore firms.
Cameron’s anti-corruption summit risked ridicule this morning after it emerged that Panama, and United Kingdom overseas territories like the British Virgin Islands (BVI), which have been at the centre of tax avoidance controversies, had also not been invited.
The UK PM opened his Anti-Corruption summit in London with a call for the British Crown dependencies to move to a “gold standard” of publishing in full lists of beneficial ownership of companies.
However the call was rejected by Orlando Smith, the Premier and Minister of Finance of the BVI, which was not asked to the summit.
Smith said: “We believe that achieving this goal requires further details and discussions about how it would apply in practice and be effectively implemented consistently and globally, together with time to assess its impact on the BVI economy in the short and longer term”
Smith said there were concerns that “the moment we begin housing vast amounts of highly sensitive, private business information and then providing access to that information to a wide array of actors, the risk of a breach goes up immeasurably.
“If legitimate businesses fear that their international transactions will be exposed to the world or, worse yet, accessed by criminals or terrorists and used as a weapon of extortion or intimidation, then the gears of international finance will start to grind more slowly.”
There also had to be a guarantee that reforms applied globally or “there is significant risk that illicit activity will merely find a home in less well-regulated or non-compliant jurisdictions”.
As leaders arrived at Lancaster House this morning, the summit was criticised after it was revealed that Fifa, the world football organisation at the heart of a corruption scandal, had also not been
The summit risked turning into a diplomatic incident earlier in the week after the Prime Minister was caught on camera telling the Queen that Nigeria and Afghanistan, two of the invited countries, are “corrupt”.
Muhammadu Buharisaid, the Nigerian President, said his government was deeply “shocked and embarrassed” by the remarks.
Downing Street have tried to play down the fact that Fifa been invited to the summit, saying that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would be involved in a panel discussion on financial crimes in sport.
A senior Government official said: “There is one focus session which will be on sport, which is clearly, absolutely, the top of the agenda when we are talking about corruption.”
Number 10 insisted the summit had only a “representative” list of attendees, and the Government was already in discussions regarding corruption with bodies like Fifa.
The conference will have three main sessions, including one chaired by the Prime Minister which will also include on the panel the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, whose government branded Mr Cameron’s remarks on his country’s corruption levels “unfair”.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrives at Lancaster House
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said he had no issue with what the PM said about his country.
He said: “He was describing the legacy of the past. Many actors, many factors combined to produce one of the most corrupt countries on Earth.
“But that is not the desire of our people and I have been elected on a mandate to make transparency, accountability and the rule of law the imperative.
“The first part of addressing the problem begins with acknowledgement and we are partners in an effort to overcome this cancer.
Speaking to the Today programme, Matt Hancock, a Cabinet Office minister said the anti-corruption summit showed the world could no longer turn a “blind eye” and defended Mr Cameron’s remarks to the Queen.
“He (President Buhari) said the Prime Minister was telling the truth and the reason the President of Nigeria has come to this summit is because he is fully committed to tackling corruption in Nigeria.
It comes as the government announces plans to stop the flow of dirty money through the London property market.
This morning Mr Cameron said overseas firms will have to sign up to a new public register if they own or buy property or if they want to bid for central government contracts.
Speaking ahead of the summit, Mr Cameron said: “The evil of corruption reaches into every corner of the world. It lies at the heart of the most urgent problems we face – from economic uncertainty, to endemic poverty, to the ever-present threat of radicalisation and extremism.
“A global problem needs a truly global solution. It needs an unprecedented, courageous commitment from world leaders to stand united, to speak into the silence and to demand change.
“That is why I am hosting this summit. Today is just the start of a more co-ordinated, ambitious global effort to defeat corruption.”