DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
AT THE SIXTH SITTING OF THE FOURTH SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
JULY 21, 2022
“FINANCIAL SERVICES UPDATE – RUSSIAN SANCTIONS”
Madam Speaker, I crave your indulgence and ask that I be allowed at this time to update this Honourable House on matters pertaining to the financial services sector, specifically with regard to Russian sanctions.
Madam Speaker, the world had hardly shaken off its New Year’s celebrations when we began to see developments that would quickly transform into a full-blown invasion of the Ukraine by Russia on 24 February, 2022. The world reacted with a suite of the most comprehensive set of sanctions imposed against a world power since World War II. These included sanctions for blocking, immobilizing, freezing, detaining and seizing assets, as well as restricting access to the global financial system.
The result of this heightened regulatory environment was as impactful on this Territory as it was in many other countries. The Virgin Islands is committed to complying with international sanctions and continues to take all requisite steps to ensure that it enforces all sanctions that are extended to it by way of the relevant Overseas Territories Orders in Council.
A very useful and efficient resource in the Territory’s arsenal is the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search system (BOSSs) which, when coupled with the Exchange of Notes between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Virgin Islands means that the Territory is able to share beneficial ownership information with law enforcement and regulators using the appropriate channels, in under 24 hours and within at little as one hour. Indeed, it was the employment of the BOSSs system which facilitated efficient information transfer about Russian-affiliated holdings and led to the freezing of relevant assets in the Virgin Islands.
The Governor’s Office, as the Competent Authority for sanctions in the Territory, has received confirmation that assets with an estimated value of more than US$400 million have been frozen, as of 11 May, 2022, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Separately, I am advised further that it is perceivable that information provided by BVI to other jurisdictions has contributed to the freezing of millions of dollars’ worth of assets elsewhere.
Although the figure of assets seized in some of our competitor jurisdictions is much higher, we ought to be careful not to lose sight of the fact that these jurisdictions are anchored more strongly on a base comprising hedge, private equity and other investment funds. The consequence of this is that the imposition of a sanction on a single entity can sometimes be measured in billions of dollars. Overall sums of dollars are not a proxy for commitment or effectiveness and we should be confident that we have done, and have the resources to continue to do, our part.
So far for 2022, the Financial Investigation Agency has recorded almost 500 requests for information (inclusive of requests under the Exchange of Notes). Whilst not all of these were specifically related to Russian sanctions, there was a noticeable increase in the number of beneficial ownership related requests submitted between February and April this year 2022, undoubtedly linked to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
One further development coming out of the sanctions regime, Madam Speaker, is the development of BVI case law by the Territory’s Commercial Court. Both VTB Bank v Taruta and AO Alfa-Bank v Kipford Ventures Ltd had to examine the duty of a legal practitioner to continue to act for a sanctioned entity or person. The strong dicta in these judgements is likely to be followed by other courts both regionally and internationally and that is testament both to the continued commitment to the rule of law which is central to our financial services offerings and the consequential and wise decisions that this Territory made years ago to invest in a properly resourced Commercial Court.
Madam Speaker, I would like to close by acknowledging profound gratitude to all the hard-working and dedicated persons in the financial services sector, both public and private, without whom we would not be able to sing the successes of our financial services sector as we know it today.
I thank you.