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Offshore Trusts Report: British Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands Special Trusts Act, 2003 (VISTA)

The 'VISTA' law allows BVI trusts to exclude the so-called “prudent man of business rule” which has traditionally made the trust an unattractive vehicle to hold long-term assets and requires trustees to monitor and intervene in the affairs of underlying companies. The Act enables a shareholder to establish a trust of his company that disengages the trustee from management responsibility and permits the company and its business to be retained as long as the directors think fit.

The legislation permits the entire removal of the trustee’s monitoring and intervention obligations (except to the extent that the settlor otherwise requires); permits the settlor to confer on the trustee a duty to intervene to resolve specific problems (eg a deadlocked board); and allows trust instruments to lay down rules for the appointment and removal of directors (so reducing the trustee’s ability to intervene in management by appointing directors of its own choice).

Some of the features of the Act are as follows:

  • The Act does not apply to BVI trusts generally: it only applies where there is a provision in the trust instrument directing the Act to apply.

  • Where the new Act applies, designated shares will be held on “trust to retain” and the trustee’s duty to retain the shares as part of the trust fund will have precedence over any duty to preserve or enhance their value. The trustee will not therefore be liable for the consequences of holding (rather than disposing of) the shares.

  • The Act specifies that, subject to any contrary provisions in the trust instrument, unless the trustee is acting on an “intervention call” (as defined in the Act), the trustee may not exercise its voting or other powers so as to interfere in the management or conduct of any business of the company; the management or conduct of the company’s business will be left to those appropriate to deal with it, namely its directors, whose fiduciary duties to the company remain intact, except to the extent that the trustee/shareholder is refrained qua trustee from exercising some of the powers of a shareholder.

  • The new statute also provides that the trust instrument may include “office of director rules” specifying how the trustee must exercise its voting powers in relation to appointment, removal and remuneration of directors, and the trustee is generally required to follow these rules. Except in compliance with these rules, the trustee must generally take no steps to procure the appointment or removal of the company’s directors.

  • The Act further provides that the trust instrument may specify that the trustee may intervene in the affairs of the company in specified circumstances, ie when required to do so by an “intervention call” by a beneficiary, an object of a discretionary power of appointment, a parent or guardian of either of them, the Attorney General (in relation to charitable trusts), the enforcer (in relation to purpose trusts) or other specified persons.

  • The Act specifies that (unless the trust instrument provides otherwise) the trustee is permitted to dispose of designated shares in the management or administration of the trust fund, but can only do so with the consent of the directors of the company (and that of such persons as are specified in the trust instrument).

  • The statute contains provisions enabling beneficiaries, directors and others to apply to the court for enforcement of the terms of the Act and, on the application of a specified person, the court is empowered to authorise the trustee to sell designated shares where retaining them is no longer compatible with the wishes of the settlor.

  • The Act is confined to shares in BVI International Business Companies and Companies Act companies.

  • The trustee of a VISTA trust must be a company which holds a licence to undertake trust business under the Banks and Trust Companies Act, 1990.

In July, 2005, the British Virgin Islands said it would amend its legislation so that special trust vehicles could hold shares in private trust companies (PTCs), thus broadening the appeal of the vehicles.

The Report

Offshore Trusts Guide: Introduction

Offshore Trusts Guide: Jurisdictions

Bahamas Barbados Bermuda British Virgin Islands Cayman Islands Cook Islands Cyprus Gibraltar Guernsey Isle of Man Jersey Liechtenstein Madeira Malta Mauritius Monaco Nevis New Zealand Panama Seychelles Turks & Caicos Vanuatu


British Virgin Islands News

BVI To Review Taxes And Fees
Monday 15/3/2010
British Virgin Islands Prime Minister, Ralph O’Neal has said that the territory will run a budget surplus during 2010, although the government still intends to review indirect taxes and fees on financial services.

Caribbean Explores Fiscal Cooperation
Tuesday 9/3/2010
Ahead of the World Bank meeting, to be held on March 11-12, where CARICOM Finance Ministers will meet to discuss challenges that the region faces, CARICOM Secretary General, Edwin Carrington said it was vital for Caribbean economies to increase economic cooperation and remove fiscal barriers, for the prosperity of the region going forward.

China Clarifies Tax Treatment Of Corporate Income Earned Abroad
Wednesday 27/1/2010
The Chinese Ministry of Finance, acting through the State Administration of Taxation, has issued a Circular to clarify corporate income tax provisions with regard to income earned abroad.

OECD Reports On Its Progress With International Tax Standards
Wednesday 20/1/2010
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the focus of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information is now shifting – from commitments and agreements to achieving an effective implementation of the standards.

UK's Wealthy Head For Sunnier Climes As Tax Storm Brews
Wednesday 16/12/2009
New research would appear to confirm that, while not quite the 'exodus' popularly characterized in the press, there is nevertheless a steady stream of wealthy financiers, entrepreneurs and bankers leaving Britain as a result of the Labour government's recent tax increases.

BVI Signs TIEAs With China And Ireland
Wednesday 9/12/2009
The government of the British Virgin Islands took a further step on December 7 to conclude Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development model Tax Information Exchange Agreements, signing texts with Ireland and China.

OECS States Agree Upon Draft Outline For New Treaty
Wednesday 25/11/2009
The new Treaty of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States will be signed in the St. Kitts capital, Basseterre on December 29.

Crown Dependencies Welcome Foot Report Findings
Monday 2/11/2009
The British Crown Dependencies have welcomed the findings of the UK government's review of the dependencies, published on October 29, which recognizes their economic benefit to the United Kingdom, and efforts to achieve compliance with international standards.

BVI Makes OECD White List
Monday 17/8/2009
The British Virgin Islands has signed its 12th Tax Information Exchange Agreement after concluding an agreement with New Zealand, meaning that the jurisdiction is now considered to be "substantially" in compliance with the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development's tax snoopers' standard.

BVI Signs OECD Model Agreements With Nordic States
Wednesday 20/5/2009
The British Virgin Islands government announced this week the signing of bilateral tax information exchange agreements with the six Nordic countries, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden at the Icelandic Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 18.