Access to anti-corruption register restored for government officials only

Access to Ireland’s Register of Beneficial Ownership (RBO) will be restored for tax officials, An Garda Síochána and other government officials, but with limited or no information now available to the general public, including the media and anti-corruption campaigners , as noted by the Irish Independent .

Access to the Irish register was blocked at the end of November following a controversial ruling by an EU top court that ruled out public access to it and similar registers across the European Union, which had been put in place to increase transparency and fight corruption to contribute was incompatible with the privacy rights of business owners.

As a result of this ruling, the Irish Registrar of Beneficial Ownership, a public officer appointed under the authority of Tánaiste and Enterprises Minister Leo Varadkar, temporarily suspended all access to the register on 29 November.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Enterprise said the decision was made in the light of the European Court’s ruling and to enable an IT solution that allows access to the RBO in accordance with the Court’s ruling.

The spokesman said the department expects access to relevant authorities and designated people to be restored last night.

Only limited information will be available to other parties “in accordance with this (EU court) ruling”.

That means the detailed information about who owns companies will be available to government officials and agents, who have always had access to more detailed information about the register than the general public, but it’s unclear what – if any – information the wider public including researchers, media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can now access it.

Under EU anti-money laundering legislation, Member States were required to set up and keep a register of beneficial ownership of companies established on their territory.

Transparency was seen as crucial to uncover owners hiding behind often complex, cross-border webs of shelf companies.

However, the European Court of Justice ruled in November that unrestricted public access to beneficial ownership details “constitutes a serious interference with fundamental rights to privacy and the protection of personal data”.

Campaign group Transparency International said the decision could set back the fight against corruption, organized crime and tax evasion by 30 years, but governments’ hands are tied by the verdict.

Hundreds of thousands of Irish companies have registered their property details with the RBO, which has been searchable by law enforcement, the media and the public. Whilst a company’s failure to register ownership details with the RBO within a certain time frame can result in hefty fines of up to €500,000, the database has also uncovered persistent and serious weaknesses in the Irish company registration process.

For example, many fake companies do not register ownership records with the RBO and are allowed to continue to operate. Access to anti-corruption register restored for government officials only

Fry Electronics Team

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