U.S. Proposes Rules Requiring Disclosure of Beneficial Owners

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network is hoping to lift the veil on the use of anonymous companies for financial transactions by forcing financial firms to disclose and verify the identities of the actual people, or “beneficial owners,” behind the transactions.

FinCEN issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Wednesday to amend the existing regulations under the Bank Secrecy Act to help prevent the use of anonymous companies to engage in or launder the proceeds of illegal activity in the U.S. financial sector. 

The proposed rule aims to clarify and strengthen the customer due diligence obligations of banks and other financial institutions (including brokers or dealers in securities, mutual funds, futures commission merchants, and introducing brokers in commodities). 

The proposed amendments would also add a new requirement that these entities know and verify the identities of the real people who own, control and profit from the companies they service.

“The beneficial ownership requirement is intended to provide us with an important new tool to track down the real people behind companies that abuse our financial system to secretly move and launder their illicit gains,” said David S. Cohen, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a statement. “Along with meeting our international commitments, this rule would make our financial system more transparent by exposing the activities of illicit actors who will no longer be able to hide behind their anonymity.”

The proposed rule comes after the Treasury conducted extensive outreach and discussion with various financial institutions and regulatory agencies. The proposed amendments would build upon post-9/11 augmentation of the regulations designed to protect the U.S. financial system. 

The Treasury contended that it would make valuable information needed to disrupt illicit finance networks available to law enforcement, and the resulting increase in financial transparency would enhance the ability of financial institutions and law enforcement to identify the assets and accounts of criminals and national security threats.

The rule also would further U.S. commitments in the G-8 Action Plan for Transparency of Company Ownership and Control, which was published in June 2013.

Customer due diligence would include four core elements: identifying and verifying the identity of customers; identifying and verifying the beneficial owners of legal entity customers; understanding the nature and purpose of customer relationships; and conducting ongoing monitoring to maintain and update customer information and to identify and report suspicious transactions. Financial institutions would need to collect the beneficial ownership information in a standardized format. They would also have to identify and verify any individual who owns 25 percent of more of a legal entity, and an individual who controls the legal entity.

Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 60 days from the date of its publication in the Federal Register.

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