News that Mauritius was added to the EU list of high-risk third countries on 7 May 2020 has understandably caused much consternation amongst fund managers who have fund structures and investment holding vehicles domiciled in Mauritius. While this is certainly a cause of concern, the following should be borne in mind:
This is not new. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global inter-governmental body responsible for setting best practice standards and enhancing the implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other similar threats to the integrity international financial systems, placed Mauritius on its 'grey list' on 21 February 2020 (being ‘Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring’). FATF "grey listing" is afforded to jurisdictions identified as having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes. The FATF has, as a result, placed Mauritius under increased monitoring. It is the FATF listing that has led to Mauritius being placed on the EU high risk list.
The EU listing is not yet in force. The list is not final and needs to be submitted to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers for approval, following which it will then become effective on 1 October 2020.
Mauritius is committed to addressing the issue. Following the FATF grey listing, Mauritius immediately made a high-level political commitment to continue to work with the FATF to swiftly strengthen the effectiveness of its AML/CFT regime. It is either compliant or largely compliant with 35 out of the 40 FATF recommendations and it has already met the FAFT expectations in respect of the ‘Big Six Recommendations’. All indications are that Mauritius will address the FATF concerns swiftly in order to be removed from the FATF grey list (and consequently the EU list) as quickly as possible.
There is a plan. The FATF Action Plan being implemented by Mauritius includes: (i) demonstrating that the supervisors of its global business sector implement risk-based supervision; (ii) ensuring access to accurate basic and beneficial ownership information by competent authorities in a timely manner; (iii) demonstrating that its law enforcement agencies have capacity to conduct money laundering investigations (including parallel financial investigations and complex cases); (iv) implementing a risk based approach for supervision of its non-profit organisation sector to prevent abuse for Terrorist Financing purposes, and (v) demonstrating the adequate implementation of targeted financial sanctions through outreach and supervision. In a communique from the Mauritian Ministry of Financial Services and Good Governance on 9 May this year, Mauritius reiterated its commitment to implementing the FATF Action Plan as soon as possible and a first progress report has already been sent to the FATF.
It does not mean you have to move existing fund structures and companies. Once the list becomes effective, and for as long as the Mauritius is on the list, then, in terms of EU regulations, certain categories of EU financial services institution, credit institutions, banks, insurance companies, investment firms, trust and company service providers and the like will be required to apply enhanced customer due diligence with respect to business relationships or transactions involving Mauritius. Furthermore, persons and entities deploying EU funding or budgetary guarantees shall be prohibited from entering into new or renewed operations with entities incorporated or established in Mauritius, except when an action is physically implemented in Mauritius. Accordingly, while EU development finance institutions should continue to meet existing obligations to Mauritian-domiciled funds, they will avoid investing in any new Mauritian fund structures (or through Mauritian entities) until the AML/CFT compliance issues are resolved. Fund managers looking to raise capital from EU development finance institutions in the short-term may need to house such commitments in parallel funds in other acceptable jurisdictions (such as South Africa). Fund managers should also pay attention to “excuse” provisions inside letters with all investors when investing into or through Mauritian entities (not just EU investors given the FATF listing applies more broadly).
Webber Wentzel will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as this develops.
Written by Nicole Paige, Ashford Nyatsumba, Michael Denenga and Gitte Truter of Webber Wentzel