Saint Lucia is an “offshore” jurisdiction in its purest form. When the industry was conceived by the enactment of the International Business Companies Act in January of 2000, the objective was to encourage foreign investment. To that end, companies established under the Act, are given an exemption from Capital gains taxes and financial reporting. Exemption on Capital gains tax and financial reporting, go hand in hand. If there are no Capital gains taxes to declare, then there is no need for any financial reporting to the tax agency.
Some jurisdictions, however, do require some financial reporting and I view these as “quasi-offshore jurisdictions”. In Singapore for example, all foreign companies, including those that benefit from lower Capital gains tax payments, are required to make periodic financial reports available to Singapore’s tax authority. It should also be noted that Singapore does not offer a total exemption on Capital gains taxes for any of its foreign companies, which puts it squarely in the category of a “quasi- offshore jurisdiction”.
Some jurisdictions require that you have a local director who is ordinarily resident in the country. So if you establish an offshore company in that country, you will be required to pay for a local director to be appointed to your company. This again ensures further measures are in place for financial reporting beyond the responsibilities imposed on the client. In Saint Lucia, there is no requirement for any of the directors of a Saint Lucia offshore company, to be ordinarily resident in Saint Lucia.
In other jurisdictions, only Registered Agents can hold offshore accounts on behalf of companies. Therefore if you set up an offshore company in that country, your bank account is operated through your Registered Agent. The government policy here is clearly to ensure close monitoring of accounts by the Registered Agent, and allow for any unscrupulous activity to be reported to the regulators. In Saint Lucia all of the information acquired about the client initially, is used to determine eligibility for an offshore account, and once the account is opened, the client has full control over it. So the Registered Agent had better do his or her job right to start with, because once the account is opened, there is nothin more he or she can do, and the Registered Agent has no control or knowledge about the activities of the account once it is opened.
All of this means that the role of a Registered Agent in Saint Lucia is extremely important and extremely onerous,with regards to maintaining the integrity of the system that we currently have in place. We are like the gatekeepers of the Kingdom and we must be vigilant in determining who we give the keys to! In most, if not all instances, the only interaction the client will have with any authority, is with the Registered Agent. As there is no financial reporting required, there is no interaction with the Regulator or Saint Lucia’s tax agency. Registered Agents in Saint Lucia are therefore an extension of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority, and we are tasked with conducting a thorough, systematic, due diligence check before taking on a client. Due Diligence is primarily the gathering of background information about a client to determine that clients eligibility to own an offshore company and an offshore account. Eligibility is determined based on the Clients identity, Country of residence, source of funding and other factors which are meant to safeguard against money laundering and terrorism financing and other illegal activities.
Registered Agents therefore have a massive responsibility, especially in Saint Lucia, to maintain the honesty and good will of the International Financial Services Industry in Saint Lucia. As a result, Registered Agents in Saint Lucia are carefully picked. There is a stringent application that must be made to the Regulator and only those with sufficient integrity and expertise in the field are chosen to be Registered Agents. It is also important that persons within the Industry in Saint Lucia can vouch for you as a suitable candidate. The system is deliberately set up this way to counterbalance the nature of the offshore industry in Saint Lucia. With no financial reporting, no local director required, and total exemption from taxes, the system in Saint Lucia is built in such a way that Registered Agents are trained in the knowledge required to ensure, that persons who wish to establish an offshore structure and open offshore accounts in Saint Lucia are vetted, and their business activities are known to, and understood by, the Registered Agent. Any illegal activity discovered by the Agent must be immediately reported to the Financial Services Regulatory Authority in Saint Lucia, who then act on the information. We are therefore like the wardens of the Industry, working to protect its integrity and keeping it at the highest standard possible.
It is clear this system works. Saint Lucia has never been blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force and maintains one of the most reputable Offshore industries in the Caribbean. Our Registered Agents recognize this and as we all have a stake in the industry, both financially and as citizens of our country, we are all committed to providing not only the highest calibre of service to our clients, but to protecting the goodwill and integrity of the industry as a whole. I for one am quite proud of what we have achieved in such a short space of time as a nation, and I am very excited to see what the future will bring.
Author -Tonjaka E. Hinkson B.A. (Ont.) L.L.B. (Lond) BVC(Lond)-Barrister at Law