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Vanuatu Government commits to removing Vanuatu from Grey List

The amendment of the International Companies Act Bill [CAP 222] in the recent 1st Ordinary Session of parliament is a step taken by the  Vanuatu Government in its bid to remove Vanuatu from the ‘Grey List’.

Minister of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) Gaetan Pikioune informed parliament that after the mutual evaluation by the Asia Pacific Group (APG) in July 2015 which resolved that Vanuatu was non-compliant with several of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) standards, the government established a national coordinating committee which is dealing with Anti-Money laundering and counter financing terrorism.

The main task of this committee is to remove Vanuatu from the grey list on the FATF listing.

“The amendments in this Bill aims to address legal deficiencies in order to comply with international requirements that we commit ourselves to, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and other international regulations,” said minister Pikioune.

“There are other Bills which will be brought to Parliament, this is the first one. The Government, through the Council of Ministers looks forward to see Vanuatu remove from the grey list thus the amendment of a bill such as this one.”

But while labeling it as one of the Bills long overdue, Leader of Opposition Ishmael Kalsakau says the government also needs to realise the implications of the provisions.

“One of the items in this Bill is obscured by the fact that many of the provisions may remove the secrecy of our nation, secrecy protected under our laws which gives confidence to investors to come and invest in Vanuatu,” he said.

“We have a tax haven regime and there is the issue of national sovereignty which we must protect.

“While we open the door to information, which a person can ask, it must be at the right juncture and the right purpose. We must be careful when allowing other people to access information in our country, which does not come through proper authorisation.

“We all accept transparency and do not want someone to come and commit a crime in Vanuatu and hide the money here. What we need to do is ensure our sovereignty is intact while we deal with the people on the other side.”

He said if one considers at the laws in other countries, dealing with murders is serious. But when one goes against their tax it is even more serious. This means the obligations changes, whilst in a criminal trial they may say one are innocent until proven guilty, but when a person avoids tax the onus is on that person to prove his innocence as the state already regards him as guilty.

“While I welcome the bill, we are an independent nation,” he said.

Section 125A (8a & b) of the amendments in the said Act ‘requires that before making an order for the disclosure of company records in relation to the beneficial ownership of shares in a company, the court must satisfy itself that there is prima facie evidence to prosecute the beneficial owners of a company of an offence under the laws of Vanuatu or another country and the disclosure of the company records would assist in in securing a conviction.

Furthermore 125B on ‘Court proceedings disclosing company records’ requires that if a company record under section 125A is likely to be disclosed in a court proceeding, the Court must ensure that such a disclosure is not made in open Court; and not disclose any confidential company information in any written judgment, orders of minutes of the proceeding.

In reference to the lifting of ‘the corporate veil’, MP Kalsakau said, “What you are now proposing is already in our laws but perhaps it is because of the word secrecy.

“This is a major policy shift outside our status. It has no meaning because you can still go to Court to acquire information, but when you remove this ‘secrecy’, you are opening the door for others to access information. It can even be arbitrary.

“The fact is it already exists, why change the language to say it is not a secret? I anchor this point on our sovereignty, it can be a secret when they require information we go to Court and exchange information in a discreet way which keeps and protects the status of our sovereignty, our economy intact and confidence bestowed on the investors.”

The Finance minister reiterated that it is not an open court where information is disclosed.

The Bill was passed with 35 votes in favor and nine abstentions.

In March 11, 2016 Daily Post’s front page article “Vanuatu faces blacklisting” prompted a response from the Prime Minister’s Office saying Vanuatu is not blacklisted but rather listed under the “Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance: On-going Process’ as of 19 February 2016”.


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