Tag Archives: beneficial ownership

Highlights of the Companies Amendment Act, 2019

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has amended the Companies Act 2013 vide the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019 (the “Amendment Act”) notified on 31 July 2019. The Amendment Act takes into account the amendments that were already notified in the Companies (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, which came into force on 2 November, 2018.

The major changes under the Amendment Act are broadly aimed at:

  • to improve the existing prosecution system by imposition of stricter penalties, under various sections, on the companies as well as the officers in default. Although this will increase the monetary burden on the company but will gradually help to reduce non-compliances.
  • to re-categorize certain compoundable offences as civil defaults and remove the criminal liability attached to them. The amendment has re-categorized certain penal provisions, where defaults that were punishable with fine/ and imprisonment have been amended to penalty. Now, the offences can be easily adjudicated with the authorities without going into time-consuming application procedures.
  • to transfer some of the approval powers from NCLT to the Central government i.e. ROC to reduce the burden of tribunals.
  • to bring accountability to the CSR activities undertaken by the Companies not only in letter but in spirit too.
  • greater accountability with respect to filing documents related to creation, modification and satisfaction of charges; non-maintenance of registered office to trigger de-registration process; holding of directorships beyond permissible limits to trigger disqualification of such directors, have also been introduced in the Amendment Act. Reforms pertaining to declaration of commencement of business provision.

Key Highlights of the Amendment Act:

Sr. No.

Category Highlights on the amendments
1.

 

Approval for Change in Financial Year

Any company or body corporate which is a holding company or a subsidiary or an associate company of a company incorporated outside India and is required to follow a different financial year for consolidation of its accounts outside India, may change its financial year with the approval of Central Government.

Prior to amendment, Tribunal’s approval was required.

2. Requirement of obtaining approval for Commencement of Business

Companies incorporated after Amendment Act, shall commence its business or exercise any borrowing powers only after filing a declaration with respect to the receipt of paid up value of the shares from the subscribers to the memorandum and the verification of Registered office within 30 days from the date of incorporation in with the Registrar of Companies. The declaration shall be filed within 180 days from the date of Incorporation.

3. Physical verification of Registered Office of the Company

Pursuant to amendment in Section 12, the Registrar is empowered to do the physical verification of the Registered office of a Company if it has reasonable cause to believe that the company is not carrying on any business or operations also to remove the name of the Company from the register of companies.

4. Approval for conversion of Public Company to Private Limited Company

Erstwhile, the Tribunal had authority approve or reject any alteration in the Articles of the Company relating to conversion of a public company into a private company. Pursuant to this amendment, the Central Government is empowered.

5. Securities to be in Dematerialized Form

A new provision has been inserted to Section 29, whereby securities of certain class or classes of unlisted companies, the securities shall be held or transferred only in dematerialized form in the manner laid down in the Depositories Act, 1996 and the regulations made thereunder.

6. Registration of Charge (due date for filing is reduced)

Section 77 has been amended whereby the extended period of 270 days has been now restricted to 60 days for filing an application to register a charge.

7. Responsibility of Identifying beneficial owner

Sub-section 4A has been inserted whereby every company shall take necessary steps to identify an individual who is a significant beneficial owner in relation to the company and require him to comply with the provisions of section 90. The introduction of this section brings more clarity for casting duty on company to identify and report on Significant Beneficial Owner to the Registrar. Further, Central Government has been empowered to make rules for the section.

8. Consequence of non-filing of Annual Return

Penalty provisions on non-filing of the annual return within the prescribed timeline have been revised and a further penalty of INR 100 per day on continuing offence subject to a maximum of 5 Lakhs has been imposed.

9. Section 117 (Resolutions and Agreements to be Filed)

The word ‘fine’ has been substituted with the word ‘penalty’ in the penalty provision and an additional penalty on continuing offence of INR 500 per day subject to maximum of INR 5 Lakhs have been imposed.

10. Section 135 (Corporate Social Responsibility)

Clarification has been provided for calculation of profits in case of newly incorporated Company by inserting following words under sub-section 5 “or where the company has not completed the period of three financial years since its incorporation, during such immediately preceding financial years”. On the unspent amount, a provision has been added to transfer the unspent amount to a fund specified under schedule VII within six months from the expiry of financial year has been provided unless it relates to an ongoing project.

In relation to any amount being unspent which relates to an ongoing project shall be transferred to a separate account to be opened by the Company to be called as the Unspent Corporate Social Responsibility Account within a period of 30 days from the end of Financial Year and such amount shall be spent within the period of three financial years from the date of transfer and in case of failure such amount shall be transferred to a fund specified in Schedule VII within 30 days from the date of completion of third financial year.

In case of default, the company shall be punishable with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to twenty-five lakh rupees and every officer of such company who is in default, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to five lakh rupees, or with both.”

11. Automatic Vacation in case of Disqualification of Director

A new clause (i) has been inserted under Section 164 as “he has not complied with the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 165” which is one of the grounds of disqualification of a director where, if he/ she breaches the limits of maximum directorship allowed thereunder.

It is to be noted that falling under any of the clauses of Section 164 leads to automatic vacation of office from all the existing companies.

12. Stock options to Independent Director

Provisions pertaining to the prohibition on entitlement of stock option by independent directors. However, this omission shall not have any impact as Section 149 (9) also provides similar prohibition.

Further, the minimum fine of 1 lakh rupees and maximum fine of 5 lakhs rupees have been replaced with a penalty of INR 1 lakh for the defaulting person and in addition where any default has been made by a company, the company shall be liable to a penalty of five lakh rupees.

13. Oppression & Mismanagement

There is an insertion of 3 new sub-sections to the Section, where for the purpose of class of companies as may be prescribed the matter shall only be made before principal bench of the Tribunal and if in the opinion of Central government there exists circumstances as mentioned under sub section 3 clause (a) (b) (c) and (d), the Central Government may initiate a case against such person and refer the same to the Tribunal with a request that the Tribunal may inquire into the case and record a decision as to whether or not such person is a fit and proper person to hold the office of a director or any other office connected with the conduct and management of the company.

14. Powers of Tribunal in case of Oppression & Mismanagement

A new sub-section (4A) has been inserted to cast responsibility on the tribunal to record its decision at the conclusion of hearing case in respect of sub-section (3) of section 241, specifically as to whether or not the respondent is a fit and proper person to hold the office of director or any other office connected with the conduct and management of any company.

15. Section 243 (Consequence of termination or modification of certain agreements)

New Sub-sections (1A) and (1B) to the section has been inserted whereby in case a person is declared as not a fit or proper person pursuant to section 242(4A) under the case of oppression and mis-management, shall not hold the office of a director or any other office connected with the conduct and management of the affairs of any company for a period of five years from the date of the said decision provided that the Central Government may, with the leave of the Tribunal, permit such person to hold any such office before the expiry of the said period of five years.

Further, according to Section 243(1B), any person on being removed as Director or any other office connected with the conduct and management of affairs of the company, shall not be entitled to, or be paid, any compensation for the loss or termination of office.

16. Petition for winding up by Registrar

There is an amendment in sub-section (3) which enables the Registrar to present a petition for winding up under section 271 with the only exception mentioned in clause of Section 271 which talks about the situation where if the company has, by special resolution, resolved that the company be wound up by the Tribunal the Registrar may not present such petition.

17. Compounding of offences

The amendment has increased the limit of offence for compounding before the Regional Director from 5 Lakh rupees to 25 Lakh rupees in 441(1)(b). Further, it has been clarified in sub-section (6), that any offence which is punishable under this Act with imprisonment only or with imprisonment and also with fine shall not be compoundable.

18. Penalty for repeated default

New Section 454A has been inserted which talks about the penalty of repeated default. In this section a company or an officer of a company or any other person shall be liable to the twice the amount of penalty, who had already been subjected to the penalty under the Act. However, the subsequent default has to be repeated within 3 years from the date of order imposing penalty for earlier default.

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Significant Beneficial Owners Rules – Disclosures

SEBI vide its circular number SEBI/HO/CFD/CMD1/CIR/P/2018/0000000149 dated December 7, 2018 issued this circular in  exercise  of  the  powers  conferred  under  Section  11  and Section  11A  of  the  Securities  and  Exchange  Board  of  India  Act,  1992  read  with Regulation 31 and Regulation 101(2) of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015, in the in the interest of transparency.

This circular is in furtherance to the previous circulars and notifications (SEBI Circular No.  CIR/CFD/CMD/13/2015 and Companies (Significant Beneficial Owners) Rules, 2018 notified June 2018 by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs). SEBI clarified and laid down specific disclosures with respect to the shareholding pattern to determine the significant beneficial ownership.

Highlights:

  • Modification: The format specified in the Annexure to the circular shall be Table V  under clause  5 of  the format of  holding  of  specified  securities specified  in  the circular No. CIR/CFD/CMD/13/2015 dated November 30, 2015.
  • Disclosure: contents of the circular to be brought to notice of all listed entities and onus on stock exchange to disseminate this information though notice and publication in website
  • Annexure contains details of-
  • (i) Significant Beneficial Owner (Name, PAN, Nationality)
  • (ii) Registered Owner (Name, PAN, Nationality)
  • (iii) Particulars of shares held by significant beneficial owner which amount to significant beneficial ownership (the quantum of shares in the form of – exact number, percentage of the total number of shares)
  • (iv) Date of creation of Significant beneficial interest (/acquisition of the shares)

The manner of disclosure, as specified in the Annexure (tabular form) to the circular, will come to force from the quarter ending 31 March 2019.

LINK: https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/dec-2018/disclosure-of-significant-beneficial-ownership-in-the-shareholding-pattern_41245.html

Determination of Significant/Ultimate Beneficial Ownership under the Indian Laws and Laws of other jurisdictions

The global scenario was riddled with the issue of money laundering, bribery, corruption, insider trading, tax fraud, terrorist financing and other illegal activities. These global issues were suggested to be combated by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body established in 1989. The FATF was set up with the objective to lay down standards and promulgate efficient execution of legal, operational and regulatory measures for combating these.

The Guidance on Transparency and Beneficial Ownership released in October 2014 (which can be accessed at http://www.fatf-gafi.org/media/fatf/documents/reports/Guidance-transparency-beneficial-ownership.pdf) (“Recommendations”), noted that corporate entities such as companies, trusts, foundations, partnerships and other types of legal persons and arrangements enter into an array of activities, both entrepreneurial and commercial in nature. The Recommendations note that these entities have been misused on more than one instance in various money laundering, bribery, corruption, insider trading, tax fraud, terrorist financing and other illegal activities. An exposure of some of these activities became widely known as “The Panama Papers”. These entities made it easier to convert and camouflage the income received from these activities as a part of the revenue stream of the corporate entities and the FATF operates to unmask this camouflage and promote transparency.

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) notified the provisions surrounding disclosure of Significant Beneficial Ownership on 6 June 2018. In addition to notifying the provisions under the Companies Act, 2013 (Act), the MCA notified the Companies (Significant Beneficial Owners) Rules, 2018 (“Rules”) on June 13, 2018. Section 90 of the Act read with the Companies (Significant Beneficial Owner) Rules, 2018 are notified with an intent to ensure adequate, accurate and timely information on the beneficial ownership of companies to the regulatory authorities and to identify and verify the identity of the individuals who ultimately own and control a corporate entity.

Legal Framework under Indian Laws

Framework under the Companies Act

The intent of Section 90 of the Companies Act, 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. (For a more detailed reading regarding the applicable rules and the intricate nuances, please refer to our earlier post, which can be accessed here.  

Reading of the Act and the Rules together, every person 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 would qualify as significant beneficial owners and are required to make a declaration to the company in which significant beneficial ownership is held. The declaration should specify the nature of beneficial interest by way of Form No. BEN-1. The Company is under an obligation to make a filing of Form No. BEN-2 on receipt of the declaration received by the significant beneficial owner within 30 (thirty) days of receipt of the declaration. The Company is under an additional obligation to maintain a register of significant beneficial owners and keep them open for inspection by shareholders of the Company. The availability of register for inspection is in line with the original intent of promoting transparency regarding the structure of companies. The onus of disclosure regarding significant beneficial ownership has been laid primarily on natural persons holding, either directly or indirectly, independent of their domicile or residential status. 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.

Framework under other Indian legislations

The identification and reporting of significant beneficial ownership is an issue that has been earlier dealt with under other legislations as well before the Act and Rules. The various legislations that it has been dealt with under earlier are:

Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA): The PMLA puts an onus on the banks, financial institutions and intermediaries for the identification of beneficial owners of their clients. The PMLA defines a beneficial owner as “an individual who ultimately owns or controls a client of a reporting entity or the person on whose behalf a transaction is being conducted and includes a person who exercises ultimate effective control over a juridical person.”

SEBI Guidelines: The concept of beneficial ownership has been dealt under the SEBI guidelines by way of Master Circulars release by SEBI which are:

a. SEBI Master Circular No. CIR/ISD/AML/3/2010 dated December 31, 2010: This Master Circular puts a mandatory onus on all registered intermediaries to obtain all information about their clients and additionally are required to identify and verify the identity of persons who beneficially own or control the securities account as part of their Client Due Diligence policy.

b. SEBI Master Circular No. CIR/MIRSD/16/2011 dated August 22, 2011 and MIRSD/SE/Cir21/2011 dated October 5, 2011: This Master Circular mandates the identification of beneficial owners by way of Prescribed uniform Know Your Client (KYC) requirements for the securities markets.

c. SEBI Master Circular No. CIR/MIRSD/2/2013 dated January 24, 2013: This Master Circular provides uniform guidelines on identification of BO, based on Government of India’s consultation with regulator.

RBI Master Direction on KYC, 2016 (Master Direction) and Rule 9 of the PML (Maintenance of Records) Rules, 2005: The Master Direction defines a beneficial owner as “a natural person(s), who, whether acting alone or together, or through one or more juridical person, has/have a controlling ownership interest or who exercise control through other means”. The Master Direction defines controlling ownership interest as ownership of/entitlement to more than 25 per cent of the shares or capital or profits of the company and control as the right to appoint majority of the directors or to control the management or policy decisions including by virtue of their shareholding or management rights or shareholders agreements or voting agreements.

Legal framework under other jurisdictions[1]

Jurisdiction Term used Governing legislation Definition
United Kingdom Person with significant control Companies Act, 2006[1] Designated ‘person with significant control’ (PSC) defined as individual who holds directly or indirectly more than 25% of shares/voting rights in company; has right to appoint or remove majority of board of directors; or has right to exercise/actually exercises significant influence or control over company/trust/ firm.
United States of America Beneficial Owner FinCEN’s Beneficial

Ownership Rules[2]

Any individual who, directly or indirectly, owns 25 percent or more of the legal entity customer; and One individual who has “significant responsibility to control, manage, or direct the legal entity.
Brazil Final beneficiary The Brazilian Federal

Revenue’s Normative

Instruction[3]

An individual that holds control or significantly influences the legal person to be registered, which occurs when the individual (i) holds, directly or indirectly, percentage superior to 25% of the corporate capital of such person or (ii) holds or exercises great influence, directly or indirectly, on the corporate deliberations and has the power to appoint the majority of the managers of the legal entity, even without controlling it.
European Union Beneficial Owner European Commissions

Anti-Money Laundering

Directive[4]

Any natural person who ultimately owns or controls customer, and/or natural person on whose behalf transaction or activity is conducted.

[1] Section 790C read with Schedule 1A of the Companies Act, 2006

[2] Section 1010.230(d), FinCEN’s Beneficial Ownership Rules

[3] Article 8, The Brazilian Federal Revenue’s Normative Instruction 1634

[4] Paragraph 13, Directive (EU) 2015/849 of the European Parliament and of the Council, 20 May 2015

Key Differences between Indian and legislations from other jurisdictions

Key Points of Legislations under other jurisdictions Indian Legislation Differences
United Kingdom i.    Individual who holds directly or indirectly more than 25% (twenty-five) of shares/ voting rights in company;

ii.   has right to appoint or remove majority of board of directors; or

iii.  has right to exercise/ actually exercises significant influence or control over company/ trust/ firm.

i.    the natural person who holds 10% (ten) of the share capital of the Company;

ii.   who exercises significant influence;

iii.  control through other means

The provisions in UK and India differs in:

i.    the threshold of the shareholding percentage.

ii.   An additional qualification regarding the right to appoint or remove majority of board of directors in the UK legislation.

United States of America i.    Individual who, directly or indirectly, owns 25 percent or more of the legal entity customer; and

ii.   One individual who has “significant responsibility to control, manage, or direct the legal entity.

The point of difference between the US and Indian provisions is the threshold of the share holding percentage.
Brazil Individual that holds control or significantly influences the legal person to be registered, which occurs when the individual:

i.    holds, directly or indirectly, percentage superior to 25% of the corporate capital of such person or

ii.   holds or exercises great influence, directly or indirectly, on the corporate deliberations and has the power to appoint the majority of the managers of the legal entity, even without controlling it.

The points of difference between the Brazil and Indian provisions are:

i.    the threshold of the share-holding percentage.

ii.   The Indian provision lays an emphasis on the concept of control whereas in the Brazilian provision, a person may be deemed as a final beneficiary if influence is exercised even without there being the presence of control.

European Union Any natural person who ultimately owns or controls customer, and/or natural person on whose behalf transaction or activity is conducted.

The key point of difference between the EU provision and the Indian provision is that where a prescribed threshold has been provided under the Indian law, the EU legislation lacks one. The EU lays an emphasis on who the ultimate owner behind the corporate veil is without prescribing a minimum threshold as a qualification.

From the comparison elucidated above, it can be seen that the threshold for determination of significant beneficial ownership is more stringent in India as compared to the legislations of other jurisdictions. The lower threshold increases the scrutiny of ultimate ownership. It would help if there is clarity on “exercising control through other means” constitute.

Author: Mr. Spandan Saxena

 

[1] Disclaimer: It is recommended that the reader refer the laws of the analyzed jurisdictions and consult a person who is an expert in the following jurisdictions. The aforementioned jurisdictions have merely been used for an analytical purpose and do not constitute a legal opinion in any manner whatsoever.

[2] Section 790C read with Schedule 1A of the Companies Act, 2006

[3] Section 1010.230(d), FinCEN’s Beneficial Ownership Rules

[4] Article 8, The Brazilian Federal Revenue’s Normative Instruction 1634

[5] Paragraph 13, Directive (EU) 2015/849 of the European Parliament and of the Council, 20 May 2015