Cyprus: Law of Offshore
Click Offshore Banking Units for details of their formation and taxation.
For the offshore investor, Cyprus banking law provides a reasonable but not outstanding level of non-disclosure.
Offshore entities must disclose beneficial ownership to the Central Bank on formation, but Central Bank employees are bound to secrecy by Section 3 of the Central Bank Law 37 of 1975 (now Section 29 of the Banking Laws 1997 to 2009). Offshore entities also have to disclose this information to their local agent, but he can only be forced to divulge it with a Court Order.
Trustees do not have to register the beneficiaries of a trust, but a trustee opening a bank account must disclose beneficial ownership. Confidentiality on the part of commercial banks is covered by the Banking Law 1997. Normally speaking, local banks apply about the same standards of confidentiality as apply in English law. In December, 2003, the Government announced plans to breach banking confidentiality, allowing the tax authorities access to residents' bank accounts. This made it possible for the government to run a tax amnesty scheme targetting those with undeclared bank accounts.
The rules for exchange of information with foreign states are a complex mixture of the local taxation laws, the network of double-tax treaties, and international agreements for mutual legal assistance and the exchange of information to which Cyprus is a signatory, now further complicated by the EU acquis communitaire which substantially worsens the position of individuals and corporations as regards secrecy. However Cyprus law does provide for normal judicial appeal procedures against treaty requests for information and cooperation.
The Cyprus Government has taken strong measures to prevent the use of the island for money laundering, partly in response to an influx of doubtful money and unwanted organizations from Russia and other CIS countries in the early nineties. The Prevention and Suppression of Money Laundering Law of 1996 has been largely successful: in April 1998 a Select Committee of Experts from the Council of Europe reported enthusiastically about the island's measures to control money laundering.
On December 13, 2007, the House of Representatives enacted an updated Prevention and Suppression of Money Laundering Activities Law, which consolidated, revised and repealed the 1996 law. Under the current Law, which came into force on January 1, 2008, the Cyprus legislation has been harmonised with the Third European Union Directive on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing (Directive 2005/60/C).
The present Law, as the previous one, designates the Central Bank of Cyprus as the competent supervisory authority for persons engaged in banking activities and money transfer business. Under this framework, the Central Bank of Cyprus has the responsibility of supervising and monitoring the compliance of banks and money transfer businesses with the provisions of the Law for the purpose of preventing the use of the financial system for money laundering and terrorist financing activities.
Since 1997 and by virtue of the powers vested to it under the Law, the Central Bank of Cyprus issued several Directives to banks and money transfer businesses which determine the practice and procedures that should be implemented by those entities for the effective prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing so as to achieve full compliance with the requirements of the Law.
In April 2008, the Central Bank of Cyprus has issued a revised Directive to the banks, in accordance with the provisions of the Law of 2007, requiring the introduction of new revised policies and procedures, as well as the upgrading and enhancement of the measures and systems for the effective prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing in line with the FATF standards and the Directives of the European Union in this sector. It is emphasized that the Law explicitly states that Central Bank of Cyprus’ Directives are binding and compulsory to all persons to whom they are addressed.
Since 1997, a special Unit for Combating Money Laundering has been set up at the Attorney General’s Office which is responsible for the receipt and analysis of suspicious transaction reports and money laundering investigations. In the course of money laundering investigations, this Unit may apply to the Court and obtain an order for the disclosure of information addressed to any person, including banks, who may be in possession of information related to the investigation as well as orders for the freezing and confiscation of funds and property suspected to be derived from money laundering.
On April 14, 2011, legislation was enacted to introduce a special bank levy under which financial institutions operating in Cyprus will be required to pay 0.095% on the total amount of deposits held at the end of each calendar year. See Cyprus Domestic Corporate Taxation for more details on the bank levy.