Significant Beneficial Ownership: Who is the real owner of the shares?

The recent changes to Section 90 of Companies Act, 2013, is to determine the identity of the person behind the curtain who is having a significant ownership of the company and is essentially controlling the management and daily affairs of the company. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs notified the Companies (Significant Beneficial Owners) Rules, 2018 (“Rules”) on 13 June 2018. These Rules were made in exercise of powers provided under Section 90 of the Companies Act, 2013 (Act) which was notified on 6 June 2018.

At present, there are two separate definitions for the determination of a significant beneficial owner. The first, as per Section 90 of the Act, an individual who holds at least 25 (twenty-five) percent of beneficial interest in the company would be categorised as a significant beneficial owner. Such individual can hold beneficial interest either alone or together or through one or more persons, with such person or persons including person resident outside India, or a trust, with such trust including a trust outside India.

The second definition of significant beneficial ownership has been provided under the Rule 2(e) of the Rules, which ascribes the categorisation of a significant beneficial owner to an individual. However, a major deviation under the Rules from Section 90(1) is that the threshold provided for an individual being classified as a significant beneficial owner is 10 (ten) percent in contrast to the threshold of 25 (twenty-five) percent prescribed under the Act. Moreover, the definition as per the Rules provide for an additional condition that the name of such individual who is holding beneficial interest should not be entered in the register of members.

Both definitions have deemed a necessary condition that an individual must be holding beneficial interest in the company to be deemed as a significant beneficial owner. The term beneficial interest has been defined under Section 89(10) as the right of entitlement of a person alone or together with any other person, indirectly or directly, through any contract or arrangement, to exercise any or all rights attached to the shares; or to receive or participate in any dividend or any such distribution in respect to shares held.

Despite the contradiction in the threshold for determination of significant beneficial ownership in a company, the threshold specified in the Rules would be considered as the applicable threshold. This is because Section 90 of the Act provides that the beneficial interest should not be less than 25 (twenty-five) percent or any other percentage as may be prescribed. Therefore, the threshold of 10 (ten) percent as prescribed under the Rules would be the final threshold percentage to determine significant beneficial ownership.

The application of the Rules extends to companies which has shareholders apart from individuals and natural persons with such shareholders holding beneficial interest in the company as per prescribed limits. The application of these rules however, does not extend to holding of shares in instances of pooled investment vehicles or investment funds such as AIFs (Alternative Investment Funds), Real Estate Investment Trusts, Mutual Funds, Infrastructure Investment Trusts.

The Rules elucidate that a beneficial interest would include right of entitlement held either alone or jointly with another person, be it directly or indirectly under any contract or arrangement. The right of entitlement would include the right to exercise any or all rights attached to such shares and receive or participate in any dividend or other distribution. Beneficial owners would be such persons holding a beneficial interest.

The rules deem significant beneficial owners to be such individuals, who while acting alone or together or through one or more persons or through a trust, hold beneficial interest of not less than 10% of the shares in the company with the names of such owners not being entered in the register of members of the company as the holder of such shares.

In cases where the beneficial interest is possessed by persons other than individuals or natural persons, the significant beneficial ownership would be determined as follows:

  1. Where the member is a company – the significant beneficial owner would be the natural person who holds 10 (ten) percent of the share capital of the Company or who exercises significant influence or control in the company through other means.
  2. Where the member is a partnership firm – the significant beneficial owner would be the natural person who holds 10 (ten) percent of the share capital or has entitlement of not less than 10 (ten) percent of profits of the partnership.
  3. Where no natural person can be identified – where no natural person is identifiable for a company or a partnership firm, the senior management official of the entity would be deemed as the significant beneficial owner.
  4. Where the member is a trust through a trustee – for the purpose of identifying the significant beneficial owner, the process would include identification of the author of the trust, trustee, the beneficiaries with not less than ten per cent. interest in the trust and any other natural person exercising ultimate effective control over the trust through a chain of control or ownership.

The Rules explicitly exempt the applicability of certain funds and investment vehicles that are registered under the SEBI Act. The Rules however, do not deal with the funds that are foreign based and not registered under the SEBI Act. Therefore, if an Indian company has a foreign fund as an investor and has an ownership qualifying under the definition of a significant beneficial owner, it is not clear whether such foreign fund would be required to make a declaration.

The filing compliance under the rules are as follows:

  1. A declaration is required to be filed to the company in which significant beneficial ownership is held within 90 days of commencement of the rules and in case of any change in the significant beneficial ownership, declaration is to be made to the company within 30 days of such change under Form BEN-1.
  2. The company is required to file Form BEN-2 with respect to such declaration within 30 days of receipt of declaration under Form BEN-1.
  3. A company is required to maintain a register of significant beneficial owners under Form BEN-3.
  4. The company can serve a notice seeking information under Form BEN-4. The person on whom the notice has been served is required to revert to the company within 30 days of receipt of notice. Wherein the company is not satisfied with information provided or person fails to furnish required information, is entitled to apply to the Tribunal within 15 days of expiry of the period mentioned in the notice.

As per the Rules, the companies were required to make a filing of Form BEN-2 on receipt of Form BEN-1 within 30 days. However, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) be way of a general circular no. 07/2018 dated 6 September 2018 have clarified that the 30-day time limit for filing Form BEN-2 would commence from the date of the e-form being available on the MCA-21 portal rather than with 30 days of receipt of declaration by the company under Form BEN-1. The MCA further clarified that no additional fee would be applicable subject to the case that the company makes the filing of Form BEN-2 within 30 days of the form being available on the MCA-21 portal.

Source: http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/CompaniesSignificantBeneficial1306_14062018.pdf

http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/GCCircularBen_10092018.pdf

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