Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BVI Premier Visited Brussels to Discuss Partnership

In the beginning of April, British Virgin Islands Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr Orlando Smith, made an official visit to Brussels, during which he had meetings with European Union (EU) officials and discussed partnerships and programs for the benefit of the 26 Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) associated with EU. At the European Commission, the Premier discussed plans for the 13th OCT-EU Forum which will be held in the British Virgin Islands. Also, BVI Premier met with United Kingdom Member of European Parliament (MEP) Ashley Fox.

On behalf of the Premier, BVI London Office director Kedrick Malone and deputy director Benito Wheatley met the secretary general of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of Countries (ACP) Secretariat, and discussed economic cooperation and programming between the OCTs and ACP countries in the regions where they are located.

Dr Orlando Smith launched himself as chairman of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA). He was introduced to OCTA partners, among them representatives of the Greek Presidency of EU, Caribbean ambassadors to the EU, the director of the OCT Task Force at the European Commission, representatives of an environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) and representatives of the OCTA Executive Committee (ExCo).

Monday, April 07, 2014

BVI House Asia Launched Funds Seminar for Financial Community

In the end of March, BVI House Asia held seminar on Funds and Investment Business: BVI Options in Hong Kong, which was attended by more than 40 practitioners, among them lawyers, accountants and corporate service providers. Themes covered at the funds seminar included the reasons why BVI is used for funds and investment services, as well as an overview of private, professional and public fund options and balancing regulation with commercial dynamics.

By words of director of BVI House Asia, Elise Donovan, the seminar is “part of BVI House Asia’s series to educate stakeholders about the financial services and products offered by the jurisdiction.” She said: “The BVI is well-known in this region for business companies, but we also offer funds, trusts and estate planning, ship and aircraft registration, captive insurance and more.” 

BVI House Asia was officially launched in Hong Kong in September 2013 to expand and strengthen ties with the financial community in the Asian region and provide educational platform for the BVI financial services.

Friday, March 28, 2014

British Virgin Islands Ranked High in Global Financial Centres Index

The 15th edition of the Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI) has named the BVI as a top five offshore finance centre. In total, among financial centres, it is in the 44th place, followed by 39 other countries. In GFCI15 report, 29 financial centres got higher positions in the ranking, 47 countries lost their positions, and 4 remained in the same place.

The GFCI report appears two times a year, providing profiles and rankings for global financial centres based on instrumental factors and the online survey results. It is an influential report in the financial world. 

Premier and minister of finance of the British Virgin Islands, Dr Orlando Smith commented on the results of the report: “This rating is testament to the comprehensive legislative and world class regime for financial services business that exists in the BVI today… The strong performance of the BVI can also be attributed to the strength of our independent regulator. This has been acknowledged and endorsed by several independent supranational standard setters and underpins my government’s belief that good regulation is good for business.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

BVI Government Initialled FATCA Inter-governmental Agreement

The BVI and the US government concluded negotiations on the inter-governmental agreement (IGA) concerning the US Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The initialling of the final text of the agreement now can be followed by its implementation in the British Virgin Islands. 

Upon signing of the agreement, foreign financial institutions in the jurisdiction that are required to comply with US FATCA, will be able to report certain information on US account holders to the BVI International Tax Authority who would automatically exchange information with the US government

By words of BVI Premier and minister of finance, Dr Orlando Smith, “The initialling of the FATCA IGA is another important signal of BVIs commitment to global standards on transparency.”

The conclusion of negotiations on the agreement was preceded by long lasting dialogue with the US Treasury in which the BVI government negotiated and received some exceptions for relevant entities such as non-profit organizations and pension plans and their accounts. Now the BVI is to put into place shortly the final legal and administrative procedures to facilitate the implementation of the agreement.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Distribution of Budget 2014 by BVI Government

The budget approved by the House of Assembly by the end of the budget process was US$302,306,000, while previously it had been US$301, 746,000, being announced in January by the British Virgin Islands Premier and Minister of Finance, Hon. Dr. Orlando Smith. Projected taxes, as part of revenue, make US$282,659,000, and other fees are planned to account US$19,091,000.

Also, for 2014 the presented operating expenditure was US$248,349,500, US$180,730,100 of them for wages and salaries. BVI Government is also planning to place some US$15.5 million into the Reserve Fund. 

According to the approved expenditure by the House of Assembly, the BVI Government committed to undertake US$26,986,000 in capital works disbursed as the Deputy Governor, US$215,000; Premier, US$800,000; Ministry of Finance, US$200,000; Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, US$4,150,000; Ministry of Education and Culture, US$3,300,000; Ministry of Health and Social Development, US$4,375,000; and Ministry of Communications and Works, US$11,350,000.

Friday, February 28, 2014

BVI FSC Issued Statistical Bulletin for the Fourth Quarter of 2013

In the beginning of this week, the British Virgin Islands Financial Services Commission published the thirty-third volume of Quarterly Statistical Bulletin, providing information on financial services industry in the jurisdiction during the last quarter of 2013. According to the statistics of incorporations and registrations, 11,376 new companies (as compared to 12,809 in the third quarter of 2013 and 14,783 in the fourth quarter of the previous year), as well as 24 limited partnerships and 48 private trust companies were registered in this period. Cumulative number of business companies in BVI as at 31 December 2013 was 459,882.

According to the bar graph included in the Statistical Bulletin and reflecting dynamics of business company incorporations in the jurisdiction during the years 2009-2013, there is a decline in the number of new companies in 2013, especially as compared to the years 2011 and 2012, when the peak amount of incorporations could be observed. In 2013, the number of newly incorporated companies is still higher than in 2009. 

By the Banking and Fiduciary Services statistics, four entities were licensed in the fourth quarter of 2013, and total number of licensed entities achieved 235 as at 31 December 2013. In Investment Business, 43 new licenses were granted in the reported period, of which 33 were issued to professional mutual funds, and 8 were investment business licenses. Four licenses were granted in Insurance industry sector.

In the sphere of Legal and Enforcement and International Cooperation, there were 16 international cooperation matters with formal requests, requiring the disclosure of non-public information, and 35 enforcement matters. Also, in the fourth quarter of 2013, 132 ongoing supervision matters were registered in Banking and Fiduciary Services sector, 161 in Investment Business, and 32 in Insurance.

Further information, statistics and analysis of BVI financial services industry in Q4 2013 can be found on the home page of the Commission.

Monday, February 17, 2014

New Cybercrime Legislation Act Introduced in BVI

Last week, a bill was introduced in the British Virgin Islands House of Assembly named The Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act. This legislation document provides for fines of up to US$1 million or prison sentences of up to 20 years for individuals that illegally leak confidential information, and sentences of up to 15 years and/or fines of US$500,000 for anyone publishing such data, and applies to any person of any nationality. Actually, the law followed the global leak of information in the last year, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and revealing private information on BVI companies contained in the secret files.

According to the survey of the industry, conducted by Offshore Incorporations Limited, the ICIJ’s reports had caused a “crisis of confidence” in the offshore industry and decline in offshore company incorporations, and particularly in the British Virgin Islands jurisdiction. Most offshore professionals stated that the disclosures have reduced demand for offshore financial vehicles or, in other cases, prompted clients to move their business from one financial centre to another. 

Press freedom manager of the International Press Institute (IPI) Barbara Trionfi said that "It is vital that the House of Assembly amend the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Bill to include a clear exception for information in the public interest, as journalists must be free to report on issues that affect democratic accountability." She added: "We are also concerned that the disproportionately harsh punishments foreseen by this bill, as well as a lack of specificity as to which information is protected, will contribute to a dangerous chilling effect on the media."

Thursday, February 06, 2014

BVI Ranked Fourth in UN Top List of Countries for Foreign Direct Investments

According to the survey conducted by the United Nations, the British Virgin Islands has been at the top of countries for foreign direct investments in the past five years. Last year, it received US$92 billion of foreign investment – more than the growing economies of Brazil and India together, with US$63 billion and US$28 billion respectively. Thus, the BVI became the fourth biggest investment destination in the world, in this ranking it follows the United States with US$159 billion, China with US$127 billion, and Russia, with just US$2 billion more than the British Virgin Islands.

The annual inflow of foreign investment of the jurisdiction in 2013 was 40% higher than last year, and continues a trend that took off after the economic crisis. However, governments are trying to tighten up their tax regulatory framework both at the national and international level. 

While for most countries, foreign direct investment consists of companies spending on corporate acquisitions and new overseas projects, for the BVI jurisdiction most of investment money goes quickly in and out of the country or cash moved through the treasury accounts of large companies, which UNCTAD defines as "transnational corporations".

Monday, January 27, 2014

BVI Government Signed MoUs with Chinese Delegation

During the visit of the delegation from Qianhai Special Economic Zone and officials of the municipality of Shenzhen, there were signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) to signal the beginning of the mutual relationship between the jurisdictions. The MoU signed between the British Virgin Islands government and the City of Shenzhen sets out the parties’ intentions to further increase bilateral cultural exchanges, to expand exchange and cooperation in areas of tourism, economy, culture, sports and other areas. The Memorandum signed between the BVI government and the Qianhai Authority sets out parties’ intentions to promote exchange and cooperation in the sphere of financial industry.

According to BVI Premier Orlando Smith, “This is a historic occasion, in that while we have had visits from Chinese delegations in the past, this is the first time that we are having such a significant delegation to forge a closer relationship.” Also, speaking about the establishment of BVI House Asia in September 2013, Smith noted that a major component of his government’s strategy is to expand and deepen the commercial footprint of the territory in Asia as one of the most important global markets

The member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee and party chief of the CPC Shenzhen Municipal Committee, Dr Wang Rong said about the opening of BVI House Asia: “We warmly welcome BVI companies and institutions to strengthen overall and multi-layered cooperation with Shenzhen in various fields, and to share development opportunities with us for a better future.”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Premier Speaks on BVI Economy During 2014 Budget Address

The Premier of the British Virgin Islands, Dr Orlando Smith, was speaking on the economy of the jurisdiction, during the 2014 Budget Address last week. He said that, despite the global financial crisis and tremendous fiscal pressure, his government has done very well in safeguarding BVI’s economy and building territory’s economic sectors and reserve fund.

Among this year’s accomplishments named by the Premier, there were improvements in the sector of tourism, including partnership with the airlines serving the BVI territory, and providing incentives for new airlines, as well as BVI presence in the Asia/Pacific region which was enforced with the opening of BVI House Asia in Hong Kong – the most active partner of the jurisdiction for financial services business.

This year’s budget announced by the Premier is US$301,746,000. Smith expressed his confidence that it will help to continue territory’s progress towards stability and growth. The vision of the British Virgin Islands government is to create “a prosperous Virgin Islands, that is ideal to live, work, visit, and do business.”

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Qianhai/Shenzhen Delegation Visits BVI to Discuss Economic and Financial Cooperation

The delegation from Qianhai Special Economic Zone and senior officials of the municipality of Shenzhen in the province of Guangdong, China, will visit the British Virgin Islands on January 9- 12 of 2014. The Qianhai/Shenzhen visit to the BVI will be headed by party chief of the Shenzhen Municipal Committee Dr Wang Rong.

During these days the six members of the delegation will meet with various stakeholders in the BVI to discuss the issues of cooperation in financial services, BVI economy, education and culture. They will have meetings with the governor, ministers and other senior government officials, among them the BVI FSC and the Tourist Board. The aim of the meetings is to discuss possible areas of understanding and cooperation between the BVI government and the Qianhai Authority, which is the modern service industry cooperation zone for the Municipality of Shenzhen - one of the wealthiest cities in China, ranked second in Forbes’ 2012 list of innovative mainland cities and eighth in the world in terms of its economic vitality.

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Arbitration Act Approved by the House of Assembly

The British Virgin Islands House of Assembly had the final reading of the new Arbitration Act 2013, which was part of the work produced by the Arbitration Focus Group – a committee comprised of public and private sector representatives. In modernising BVI arbitration framework, the Arbitration Focus Group focused on updating the Territory’s arbitration legislation, as well as procuring the extension of the New York Convention to the BVI, and creating an administrative body to facilitate arbitration in the jurisdiction

The new Act incorporates the UNCITRAL model law on arbitration, as amended in July 2006, into the British Virgin Islands domestic law. Also, the new legislation modernizes the provisions for the enforcement of foreign arbitration awards in the BVI, and provides for the creation of a new statutory body: the BVI International Arbitration Centre. It includes changes providing arbitration awards to be exempt from local stamp duty and from any charges under the Income Tax Act or the Payroll Taxes Act. 

The new Arbitration Act also grants various additional powers to the British Virgin Islands courts to support and assist the conduct of arbitration proceedings.

The previous arbitration legislation in the jurisdiction was the Arbitration Act - a synthesis of the English Arbitration Acts of 1950 and 1975, regarded as unsuitable for modern cross-border arbitration.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Premier Addresses the House of Assembly with Medium Term Fiscal Plan

In addressing the House of Assembly on December 17, BVI Premier and Minister of Finance Dr. D. Orlando Smith was talking about the Medium Term Fiscal Plan of the BVI Government. By his words, the strategies and initiatives included on the plan over the next three years would have the purpose to ensure the fiscal sustainability of the British Virgin Islands, fostering economic growth, social development and investments into infrastructure. The Premier said that the strategic undertakings include channeling resources to health, social development, education, business and entrepreneurship development.

The Premier told the House: “The approach that we have taken is to first clearly articulate a development strategy which embraces Social, Economic, Environmental and Direction/Governance (S.E.E.D) themes and which provides the platform for advancing the promises we made to the people of this Territory…We have identified areas where we can make simple, but effective changes to the way Government conducts its fiscal affairs.” 

The BVI Government will continue to enhance its provision of services to the public, and at the same time improve the public finance management system.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

UK Ministers Discussed Business and Investment Issues with Overseas Territories' Leaders

In the end of November, UK ministers and leaders of UK Overseas territories including BVI participated at the annual Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council which took place in London.

During the event, the UK and Overseas territories’ governments agreed on setting out further steps to promote business, trade and investment opportunities. They also agreed to co-operate in the spheres of education, environment and energy, as well as governance and security issues and international financial services regulations

The UK Minister for Overseas Territories Mark Simmonds commented on the meeting: “I was delighted to host this year’s Joint Ministerial Council and greatly valued my discussions with the leaders of the overseas territory governments. There was a real sense of progress towards our shared ambition for the Territories as vibrant and flourishing communities. We are working together to support economic growth and job creation and to demonstrate that the territories are among the best places in the world to do business.”

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thirty-Second Volume of Quarterly Statistical Bulletin Published by BVI FSC

BVI Financial Services Commission has published the thirty-second volume of its Quarterly Statistical Bulletin, comprising statistics and other important information on financial services industry in the British Virgin Islands during the three months period ended September 2013. In the reported period, 12,809 Business Companies were incorporated in the jurisdiction, an increase if compared to 12,478 companies in the second quarter of 2013, and less than 16,251 companies incorporated in the same quarter of 2012. Cumulative number of companies registered in the BVI as at 30 September 2013 was 480,072. Also, there were 16 Limited Partnerships and 23 Private Trust Companies registered in BVI in Q3 2013, as compared to 33 and 16, respectively, in the previous quarter of this year. There were 908 Limited Partnerships and 556 Private Trust Companies registered in the jurisdiction at the end of this quarter.

In the sector of Banking and Fiduciary Services, there were 2 entities (trusts) licensed in the third quarter of 2013. In Investment Business, 39 new licenses were granted, as compared to 30 in the second quarter of 2013, and 29 in the third quarter of 2012. In Insolvency Services industry, there were 25 Insolvency Practitioners. 

In the sphere of Legal and Enforcement and International Cooperation, there were 16 Formal and 4 Informal Requests for International Co-operation, and 44 Enforcement Matters registered. There were also 94 Ongoing Supervision Matters referred to the Licensing and Supervisory Committee and related to Banking and Fiduciary Services; also, 299 related to Investment Business, 47 related to Insurance, and 2 related to Insolvency Services. There were 3 Onsite Inspections in Q3 2013, all of them related to Trust Companies.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

BVI Presents on China Offshore Summit

Martin Crawford, chief executive of Offshore Incorporations Ltd, has referred to the status of the British Virgin Islands jurisdiction as the leading one for Chinese investors and entrepreneurs, during the China Offshore Summit recently held in Shanghai and attended by more than 350 Chinese wealth planners, bankers, lawyers, and offshore professionals.

In his presentation he named the reasons why the BVI is the most complete jurisdiction for the needs of Chinese investors, among them opportunities for non tax-driven structures such as asset protection, wealth management, funds management, investment holdings, trading, special purpose vehicles, and listing vehicles for IPOs. It was stated by him as an example that 60 per cent of the multi-million dollar London properties, owned by Chinese citizens, were purchased through BVI entities.

The chief executive of one of offshore industry leaders made his presentation on behalf of the BVI International Finance Centre (BVI IFC), platinum sponsor of the summit. Christopher McKenzie, representative of BVI law firm O'Neal Webster, promoted BVI trusts on a panel discussion titled Strategies for Family Business Succession, while Janice Skelton of Newhaven Corporate Services described the benefits of the BVI on a panel on Selecting Jurisdictions for Chinese Private Wealth Management. Barry Mitchell and Charlie Sparrow of law firm Maples and Calder presented on the benefits of BVI Trusts for Asian IPOs. On the second day, there was a two-hour special feature on the BVI jurisdiction, which included presentations and panel discussions under the theme BVI: The Complete Offshore Solution. There was also an update on BVI House Asia, established in Hong Kong this year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

BVI Office in Hong Kong Launches Financial Services Seminars

BVI House Asia, which was opened in Hong Kong by the British Virgin Islands in September this year, launched a series of seminars focused on the financial services products of the offshore jurisdiction.

The first seminar was devoted to BVI trust and estate law, and was led by Christopher McKenzie - a partner from O'Neal Webster law firm, who has chaired the STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) committee responsible for making the proposals to the BVI government to make trust innovations of 2003 and 2013. Case studies on BVI trusts in practice were also presented by Maples and Calder’s lawyers

The seminar focused on the unique features of BVI trust legislation, including VISTA (Virgin Islands Special Trusts Act) that creates a special trust regime and is very popular in Asia and particularly in Hong Kong. Another focus of the presentations was the PTC Regulations, enabling unlicensed BVI companies to be set up as a confidential way of holding trust assets.

According to the director of BVI House Asia, Lorna Smith, this seminar is a precursor to the type of activities that will be put on by BVI House Asia in Hong Kong and Asia to provide updates and education on BVI's financial services products to the practitioners in the region.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

BVI Premier and Tourist Board Delegation Visited Brazil

British Virgin Islands Premier and Minister of tourism, Dr Orlando Smith made visit to Brazil to introduce the territory to the leading tour operators, travel agents and media. During the week’s time, together with BVI Tourist Board representatives the premier visited Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, had meetings with more than 200 travel agents and presented the BVI destination, sharing the ideas of what makes it unique and attractive as a choice holiday vacation.

The BVI delegation also hosted a dinner for owners of ten major tour operators, a cocktail presentation evening for Travel Week Rio, a lunch for editors and journalists of top media houses in Sao Paolo. 

By words of director of tourism, Sharon Flax-Mars, “This is an opportune time for the British Virgin Islands to be promoted in South America… Our presence will enable us to increase awareness of the BVI and our visibility between Brazil, Argentina and Mexico which will ultimately lead to more arrivals from these countries.”

Friday, November 01, 2013

UK Minister for Overseas Territories Commends BVI FSC

Mark Simmonds, the UK Minister for Overseas Territories, in his comments in response to a question from MP Martin Horwood on the issue of international standards endorsed the strength of the BVI independent regulator, the Financial Services Commission (FSC). He named it “an extremely impressive regulator who wants to ensure that the British Virgin Islands has the highest possible international reputation.” He also said: “The (BVI) regulator wants it to be seen as a well regulated jurisdiction in order to encourage, rather than inhibit or hinder, further investment.”

Mark Simmonds also mentioned the “extremely positive” engagement by the Overseas Territories on the issue of tax transparency. His statement actually followed David Cameron’s praise of the UK Overseas Territories for the actions taken to ensure the highest standards of tax transparency. Cameron said that it was no longer fair to refer to the BVI and other similar jurisdictions as ‘tax havens’.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Founder of Virgin Group Changed UK Residence for Private BVI Island

Sir Richard Branson, British entrepreneur and investor, named by Forbes as Britain’s sixth richest resident this year, and best known as the founder of Virgin Group which includes more than 400 companies, has revealed that he had been a tax exile to the BVI for the last years.

Branson moved his main residence to the private island in the British Virgin Islands. This island, named Necker, was bought by the businessman in 1979, and has become his tax base. Now he can spend in the United Kingdom only 46 to 183 days a year. As a non-resident, he must pay tax on UK income but not on any personal earnings outside of Britain. His companies are paying corporation tax.

Branson commented on his decision to move to the Caribbean island, saying it is done for the sake of his health rather than for tax reasons.

Branson’s fortune is estimated at £3.5bn, now he earns about US$11m a year, and donates much of his income to the Virgin Unite charity, which supports entrepreneurs around the world. He does not take dividends from Virgin Group Holdings, which owns his stakes in the Virgin operating companies and is registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Friday, October 11, 2013

BVI FSC Issued Thirty First Volume of Quarterly Statistical Bulletin

The BVI Financial Services Commission has published the 31st volume of its Quarterly Statistical Bulletin, informing about financial services activities in the Territory in the second quarter of 2013. In the period ended June 30, 2013, 12,478 new companies were formed, compared to 16,666 in the previous quarter of this year, and to 15,200 incorporations in the second quarter of 2012. Cumulative number of active business companies at the end of Q2 2013 was 457,151. Also, the Registry of Corporate Affairs reported of 16 Limited Partnerships and 33 Private Trust Companies formed in the second quarter of 2013.

According to Banking and Fiduciary Sector statistics, 2 entities were licensed in the BVI jurisdiction in the three months period, both of them trusts, and the total number of licensed entities was 234 as at 30 June 2013. Banking sector also reported the following fiscal results for commercial banks in the second quarter of the year (in US$ thousands): total assets - $2,470,458, deposits - $1,871,986, total shareholders’ equity was $372,570, operating income - $45,799, and net income - $24,663. 

In Investment Business Sector, 4 new Investment Business Licences were granted and 6 Investment Managers approved in the three months period. Also, 30 new Mutual Funds were licensed (21 of them Professional, and 9 Private), as compared to 39 newly licensed Mutual funds in the first quarter of 2013, and 22 funds in the second quarter of the previous year. Cumulative number of Mutual Funds as at 30 June 2013 was 2,277.

In the second quarter of the year, there were 24 Formal Requests in the sphere of International Cooperation, as well as 4 formal, and 51 Enforcement Matters. In Investment Business sector, 280 Ongoing Supervision Matters were reviewed by the Licensing and Supervisory Committee; 94 Matters referred to LSC related to Banking and Fiduciary Services, 28 related to Insurance, and 4 – to Insolvency Services.