Large family businesses in the Netherlands, such as Jumbo, BCD Travel and De Heus, cannot be found in the Chamber of Commerce’s (KvK) owner register. Research by NOS in the thirty largest family businesses shows that a quarter of the owners are still missing. Some companies say that this is due to arrears at the Chamber of Commerce.
Dutch companies had to register their owners by March 27. This so-called UBO register has been introduced across the EU to make it easier to detect money laundering, fraud and terrorist financing. It also helps monitor compliance with sanctions.
Of the companies that are in the so-called UBO register, some have entered pseudo-owners so that the real owners remain hidden. This is not prohibited, but it leads to the registry not working optimally.
The family businesses are therefore typical of the relatively difficult implementation of the UBO register in the Netherlands, shows an international comparison from the audit firm PwC following inquiries from NOS. “Although it is very important,” says Jesse Renema, project manager at the Open State Foundation. “Rogue schemes are revealed by these kinds of registers. Think of the mask deal of Sywert van Lienden or Russians hiding their property.”
Due to delays at the Chamber of Commerce, not all registrations can be found in the register yet. Although that backlog has been caught up, only 64 percent of organizations have passed on their ownership, the Treasury estimated. Hundreds of thousands of owners are in conflict because of this.
20 weeks processing time
“We have registered all necessary information for BCD Group with the Chamber of Commerce,” said a spokesman for billionaire John Fentener van Vlissingen’s business travel empire. According to the spokesman, the fact that he and his son Robert-Jan cannot be found in the register is due to the processing time at the Chamber of Commerce. “They have informed us that the processing time can be up to 20 weeks.”
Other untraceable family businesses such as the supermarket chain Jumbo, the animal feed group Koninklijke de Heus and the dairy company Hoogtweg also point to the Chamber of Commerce. NOS received no response from car group Louwman and tire distributor Inter-Sprint.
These large family businesses are not yet in the register:
|Business travel empire BCD Travel BV||Registered, subject to processing at the Chamber of Commerce|
|Supermarket Jumbo Holding BV||Registered, subject to processing at the Chamber of Commerce|
|Foderkonkrern Koninklijke de Heus BV||Registered, subject to processing at the Chamber of Commerce|
|Dairy company Hoogwegt Group BV||Registered, subject to processing at the Chamber of Commerce|
|Car dealer Louwman (Teijlingerhorst BV)||No reaction|
|Tire company Inter-Sprint (Global Automotive Investment holding BV)||No reaction|
|Oil trader JAB van Kessel Beheer BV||Well registered|
Although the companies have registered, the owner sometimes remains unknown. For example, the Netherlands’ largest family-owned company SHV has listed four directors as ‘pseudo-UBOs’, while the Fentener van Vlissingen family is the actual owner.
SHV did not respond to questions from NOS about why pseudo-UBOs were entered. It is clear that none of the family members owns more than 25 percent of the shares. If no owner can be appointed, a company can pass on directors.
“It is one of the stumbling blocks in the implementation of this registry,” says Renema of the Open State Foundation. “It is now very easy to abuse it. Our plea: lower that limit to 5 percent of the shares. Then it will be very difficult to hide behind pseudo-UBOs.”
Big European differences
In Europe, there are large differences in how energetically countries operate. “Of the five countries where we know how many companies have registered, the percentage in the Netherlands is clearly the lowest at 64 percent,” says PwC researcher Mitra Tydeman-Yousef.
For example, in countries such as Gibraltar, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg, approximately 90 percent of companies are registered. There is no data available for the other European countries.
That the Netherlands is doing relatively poorly may be due to the fact that the Netherlands has not yet imposed fines on companies that do not report their owners. “You can taste that the Netherlands will wait for the case at the European Court of Justice,” says Tydeman-Yousef. That case concerns the question of whether a public UBO register disproportionately violates the right to privacy.
Two thirds of the EU countries are not waiting for that case, the PwC study shows. For example, Luxembourg fined a company 2,500 euros this month. In Belgium, the first wave of €500 warning fines has been handed out. For now, the Netherlands only sends a small number of warning letters.