Since 2019, Belgium has required companies to register in the UBO register (Ultimate Benificial Owner-register) to be registered. This register contains the details of the main shareholders behind a particular legal entity (as of 25 % of shares or voting rights) and is in the framework of the European Anti-Money Laundering Directive.
The fact that this registry is publicly accessible is coming under fire due to a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice. Following a Luxembourg court case, the European Court ruled that free access to this data violates the right to respect for private life and the right to protection of personal data and is disproportionate to the purpose of the UBO register, which is to combat anti-money laundering and terrorist financing.
Originally, the registry was only accessible to stakeholders in this information, such as the tax authorities or financial institutions. However, the register became publicly accessible with the idea that the press and civil society organizations could take up a role in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. Thus, based on this ruling, this access of the general public to the UBO register no longer seems tenable.
An adaptation of the European directive will be imminent. Belgian judges can already rely on the ruling when a Belgian entity, such as a company or non-profit organization, would challenge public access. Reverting to the previous version of the Directive, in which access is based on a "legitimate interest," would thus be a logical consequence.
The ball is therefore in the Belgian legislator's court to determine to what extent Belgian legislation needs to be adapted. In the meantime, it has already been decided to temporarily suspend access to the register for the general public.
However, this case law does not mean that legal entities should no longer have to comply with their obligation to register, keep up-to-date and confirm their UBOs annually.
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