Under rules introduced with the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive, EU Member States introduced central registers containing the personal details of any individual who fits the definition of 'beneficial owner' of companies established in the EU. The information includes the nature and extent of the relevant beneficial interest (e.g. '35% ownership', or 'trust beneficiary').
This information is accessible to authorities, financial intelligence units and the public at large. Under the 4th EU Money Laundering Directive, members of the public needed to demonstrate a 'legitimate interest' in the context of the fight against money laundering.
Whilst these rules were first introduced in the EU, beneficial ownership registers are slowly turning into a new gold standard. The UK's Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories have announced the introduction of public registers of beneficial ownership, as has Canada. In the US, the framework for a central federal register of beneficial ownership was introduced in 2020 as part of the Corporate Transparency Act.
The UK introduced its own version of public registers in 2016. However, the UK registers focus on the concept of 'Controlling Person' as opposed to 'Beneficial Owner'. PSC registers are discussed here.
PSC registers apply to UK companies. In addition, the UK Government is considering the extension of the regime to foreign companies holding UK real estate, as discussed here. Please check our website for updates.