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Malta, along with other European countries such as the Netherlands and Luxembourg, has taken down public access to its register listing companies’ ultimate beneficial owners (UBO).

The development follows on from a European Court of Justice decision that this information should not be made available to the public at large.

While anti-corruption association Transparency International said the decision “takes us back years” in the fight for corporate transparency and against economic crime, gaming experts told iGaming NEXT it also raises questions for gambling companies about their ability to carry out the required due diligence and AML checks on business partners.

Last week, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) found that “the general public’s access to information on beneficial ownership constitutes a serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.”

Maíra Martini, corrupt money flows expert at Transparency International, commented: “Access to beneficial ownership data is vital to identifying – and stopping – corruption and dirty money. The more people who are able to access such information, the more opportunity to connect the dots.”

The UBO register was first introduced in 2018 as part of the 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

Reuben Portanier, director of business advisory at GTG Advocates in Malta, told iGaming NEXT that it is still a bit “too early to determine the impact on the AML regulatory framework.”

However, he said, what is for sure is that lawmakers, company houses and business registries in the EU would need “to rethink how to structure their data in relation to beneficial owners and other ‘personal’ data on directors and company secretaries”.

“The challenge will be to ensure that subject persons, such as company service providers and gaming companies, will be able to ascertain ownership of their corporate clients in line with AML requirements,” he said.

One option, Portanier said, would be that company registries revoke public access but still allow for qualified access from subject persons who need to conduct AML checks.

Elsewhere, Joseph Borg, partner at gaming and technology law firm WH Partners in Malta, said: “This is not the end of the UBO register but a sensible decision that recognises that personal data of UBOs should not be out there for everyone to access.

“Only authorities and persons that have a legitimate interest should have such possibility. Now the question is how this legitimate interest will be assessed,” he said.

“I guess we will have to wait and see how the changes to the law will be implemented and whether there is going to be uniformity throughout the EU,” he added.

The CJEU was asked to rule on the issue following complaints from a number of individuals and companies who appealed to the Luxembourg registry for their names to be kept private.

Transparency’s senior policy officer Roland Papp meanwhile urged EU policymakers to “include precise provisions that reconcile public access with privacy and security concerns” in the EU’s 6th Anti-Money Laundering Directive.