Published On: Thu, Feb 13th, 2014

New legislation in BVI may threaten press freedom

Legislation buildingROAD TOWN, BVI -- A bill introduced in the British Virgin Islands House of Assembly last week for the first of three required readings seeks to impose tough criminal penalties on individuals who leak confidential information and those who publish such information.

The Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act as gazetted provides for fines of up to US$1 million or prison sentences of up to 20 years for individuals that illegally leak confidential information, and sentences of up to 15 years for anyone who publishes such data that “he or she knows or ought reasonably to have known was obtained without lawful authority.”

The new law would apply to any person of any nationality within or outside the BVI.

The new legislation comes after a series of published leaks over the past year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), revealing sensitive information on BVI companies leaked to ICIJ.

ICIJ’s reporting uncovered prominent politicians and business leaders, as well as Ponzi schemers, fraudsters and criminals, among more than 100,000 offshore entities contained in the secret files. Many of these files belonged to the BVI-based offshore services firm Commonwealth Trust Limited.

In the aftermath of the leaks, various reports have indicated the heavy toll that the disclosures have taken on the BVI in particular, ICIJ said.

An industry survey by the company Offshore Incorporations Limited concluded that ICIJ’s reporting had caused a “crisis of confidence” in the offshore industry. More than three quarters of the offshore professionals surveyed said that the disclosures have reduced demand for offshore financial vehicles or prompted clients to move their business from one financial centre to another.

In the BVI, incorporations of new companies have declined sharply. Data released by the BVI Financial Services Commission from 2013’s third quarter showed a 21 percent decrease from 2012, ICIJ reported.

By Caribbean News Now contributor

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