John Christensen ■ Her Majesty the Queen of Offshore
It should come as no surprise that Her Majesty the Queen uses offshore tax havens as part of her wealth management strategy. The Queen is, after all, the head of state of the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, and Bermuda where the law firm Applebys was originally based, and others, which makes her the Queen of Tax Havens. In 2013 TJN wrote a letter to the Queen requesting that she use her position as Head of State to request her Prime Minister to take steps to end offshore secrecy. Our letter pointed out that the British tax havens were deficient in transparency in key areas relating to ownership information about companies, trusts and foundations, and also publication of financial accounting information. As we said at the time:
. . none of the Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies operate a properly transparent public register of offshore companies, trusts and foundations. None obtain and maintain information on beneficial ownership and make this information publicly available. Not one requires that all company financial accounts are made publicly available.”
In her reply, Her Majesty thanked TJN for sending a copy of Nick Shaxson’s brilliant exposé of tax havens, but answered our request by stating that her position as a constitutional monarch “precludes her from intervening in matters such as this.”
The Queen meets her Prime Minister weekly to discuss matters of state. Tax havens have been high on the global agenda since 2008 and Britain’s role as the largest global provider of offshore financial services should make this a matter of high priority to the person who is nominally Head of State of so many major secrecy jurisdictions. While we would not expect the Queen to publicly voice personal concerns, it is quite reasonable to expect Her Majesty to raise concerns about offshore secrecy with her Prime Minister and push for transparency measures to be fully implemented.
To date, however, there has been little progress. Since 2013 British secrecy jurisdictions have refused to introduce public registries of ownership and financial accounting information is still not published online (if at all). Worse, Britain continues to resist efforts to include trusts in transparency measures, which undermines attempts to strengthen international cooperation on automatic information exchange through the global Common Reporting Standard. We recently published an extensive report on the uses and abuses of offshore trusts, available here, and even more recently we published a reply to various criticisms of that paper, available here.
The Queen’s role as Head of State of so many leading secrecy jurisdictions puts her in a highly compromised position. The situation is made worse by revelations that her wealth management team have invested in an offshore portfolio which includes companies that have been accused of exploiting poor and vulnerable households. Given that Her Majesty will be meeting her Prime Minister this week, and the next, and the week after that, we humbly request that she uses the opportunity of these meetings to push for three specific measures:
- That all British territories make their company ownership registers fully available to public online search at no cost;
- That all British territories should require registration and publication of information concerning trusts (see page 47 here);
- That the British Prime Minister accepts full responsibility for the activities of British secrecy jurisdictions and requires them to automatically share information on offshore trusts with the relevant authorities of all countries across the world.
Our 2013 letter to the Queen is available here. Here is a copy of the letter that Her Majesty sent to TJN in November 2013: