EU court questions access to anti-money laundering data

The future of public registers of business owners has been called into question after the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the requirement that the information be available to any member of the public in any case was invalid.

Under EU anti-money laundering legislation, Member States, including Ireland, are required to set up and keep a register of beneficial ownership (RBO) of companies established in their territory. It is seen as crucial in unmasking owners hiding behind often complex, cross-border webs of shelf companies.

Transparency, including public access to registers, aims to prevent companies from money laundering, sanction breaking and tax evasion.

However, in a judgment published on November 22, the EU Court of Justice ruled that the provision in the European Money Laundering Directive that ensures public access to so-called beneficial ownership information is invalid.

In its binding decision, the court found that unrestricted public access to beneficial property “constitutes a serious interference with fundamental rights to privacy and the protection of personal data”.

The judgment was linked to a case against Luxembourg over its registry, but appears to have implications across the EU.

In the case of Luxembourg, almost all information held by the domestic registry is publicly available, with the exception of a business owner’s address and national ID number.

Here there are two levels of access to our relevant Register of Beneficial Ownership (RBO) – level one includes full access for police, tax and other classes of government officials, while level two is public which is more restrictive and only includes partial date birth information.

Failure to register ownership data is punishable by a fine of up to €500,000. EU court questions access to anti-money laundering data

Fry Electronics Team

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