BC steps up action against real estate's 'hidden owners'

The government of British Columbia says it is taking the next step in its fight against money laundering and tax evasion.

The province will now require all private BC businesses to keep transparency records of beneficial owners, a move that aims to crush the ability of those who use anonymous shell companies to hide their assets.

“Hidden ownership is distorting our economy and driving up our real estate market,” said Carole James, Minister of Finance. “Right now, businesses operating in our province can hide their ownership behind numbered companies and offshore and domestic trusts. This is hurting communities throughout our province that are dealing with the consequences of criminal activity and high home prices, and it needs to stop.”

B.C.’s Expert Panel on Money Laundering in Real Estate report identified disclosure of beneficial ownership as the “single most important measure that can be taken to combat money laundering,” with an estimated $5 billion laundered through the real estate industry in 2018.

The new requirement will come into effect on May 1, 2020, through amendments to the Business Corporations Act.

Who’s in control?
Business records will need to show details of individuals who have direct or indirect control of the company or its shares. Information collected includes full legal name, date of birth, citizenship and last known address.

The province says this will end hidden ownership by requiring companies to maintain accurate information on who owns and/or controls the business; the information can be shared with law enforcement and other agencies.

“The previous government let criminals shelter the illegal proceeds of crime, but we are listening to British Columbians, experts and municipalities to end hidden ownership,” James said. “Requiring businesses to maintain transparency registries means that criminals cannot hide what they own and that people are paying their fair share.” 

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