Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley moves to amend the agenda of the House of Assembly. (Screenshot: HOA)

Legislation aimed at fighting money crime was dropped from the House of Assembly’s agenda at the last minute without explanation on Tuesday.

The Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System (Amendment) Act was scheduled to be debated and passed, but Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley pulled it from the order paper as it was about to be discussed and then moved on to other business.

Dr. Wheatley, who is also the finance minister, did not explain why the item was withdrawn at such short notice.

The bill — which was Gazetted March 12 — is designed in part to increase transparency over who really owns companies registered in the Virgin Islands.

To that end, it seeks to “improve the quality of information required to be reported” under requirements from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Forum on Harmful Tax Practices, according to a summary of the bill’s aims published by the government.

Among other steps, the measures would require entities to outline their gross income in relation to specific relevant activity.

The bill would also amend the law to designate the Governor’s Office as a “competent authority” permitted to obtain information from the BOSS System on request.

BOSSS history

Following British pressure, the VI grudgingly agreed in September 2020 to sign up for a United Kingdom plan for overseas territories and crown dependencies to bring in public beneficial ownership registers by the end of 2023.

The VI then began preparing for the reform, but in November 2022 the European Union Court of Justice handed down a judgment that put a question mark over the move.

That ruling, which was centred on Luxembourg’s then-public registry, stated that a key aspect of the EU’s anti-money laundering directive — which required beneficial ownership information to be available to the public — was invalid.

Last November, related issues were discussed at a London meeting of the overseas territories and the UK government, known as the Joint Ministerial Council.

Dr. Wheatley used the gathering to explain that the VI’s existing BOSS System already provides information to overseas law enforcers on request even though it is not public.

Deputy Premier Lorna Smith, the financial services minister, said in April that a beneficial ownership register accessible by the public would be in place by mid-2025.

The premier did not immediately respond to a query about why the bill had been pulled on Tuesday.