Details of thousands of companies domiciled on the island, many thought to have Russian links, will be collected from March 16 to be entered in a so-called Ultimate Beneficial Owner (UBO) register.
Supporters say the register, a requirement of European Union anti-money laundering (AML) regulations, could be a game changer for Cyprus, which activists say has in the past been a magnet for those concealing wealth behind brass plate companies, lured by competitive tax rates.
“We will give companies six months to collect all the details to enter into the system,” said Antonia Faita-Stavride, a senior administrative officer at Cyprus’s Ministry of Energy, Commerce and Industry, who is coordinating the project.
Experts predict some companies will shift jurisdiction rather than reveal their beneficial owners.
Cyprus has long attempted to shake off an image of a jurisdiction that blindly takes investors’ cash, no questions asked. A lucrative passport-for-investment scheme was abruptly pulled last year after reports of possible corruption.
Campaigners say finding the ultimate owner of Cyprus-registered firms at present can be like searching for a needle in a haystack – a paper trail that begins with a labyrinth of local “directors” and then loops around other low-tax jurisdictions before hitting a dead end.
Such shell companies are “one of the most used vehicles to launder money”, said Maira Martini, research and policy expert on corrupt money flows at Transparency International.
Katerina Antoniou, Director of Compliance, Risk and Anti-Money Laundering at Deloitte, said a number of companies registered in Cyprus had already switched domicile after stricter controls imposed by banks in 2020.
“The registers may trigger another wave of re-domiciliation, especially for those entities that would like to avoid the declaration of the UBOs,” said Antoniou.
It was, she said, “a very important tool” in the hands of authorities.