On the 15th of January 2018, the Austrian law on Economic Ownership Register (wirtschaftliche Eigentümer Registergesetz – WiEReG) enters into force. The purpose of this register is to make ultimate beneficial owners transparent and verifiable and preventing money laundering and terrorist financing. The European Union ascertained a need to identify any natural person who exercises control over a legal entity. Europe argues that the need for up-to-date information on the beneficial owner is a key factor in tracing criminals who might otherwise hide their identity behind a corporate structure. WiEReG is implementing in Austria the European Directive 2015/849, also known as Fourth Money Laundering Directive. From the beginning of 2018, all direct or indirect ultimate beneficial owners with shares of more than 25% in an Austrian legal entity are to be entered into the new register.
What has to be registered?
The beneficial owners of a legal entity are to be registered. This includes any natural person who directly or indirectly has sufficient shares to exercise control over the management of a company. In this case, a direct beneficial owner has to register if he has a 25% + 1 share of the shares or a holding of more than 25% shares in an Austrian company. An indirect beneficial owner (i.e. indirectly through a group of companies) shall register if they have more than 25% shares of a legal entity. If no natural person as an economic owner can be ascertained, the members of the highest management level of the legal entity (managing director, board member) shall be deemed to be economic owners.
The name, date of birth, nationality, place of residence as well as the nature and extent of the economic interest or the extent of the participation or function of the person concerned shall be indicated.
The bodies with full powers of representation of all companies and legal entities must report the requested and relevant data by 1st June 2018. For newly founded companies from May 2018, generally, a 4-week deadline for the announcement of the economic ownership applies.
How to register?
Registering of legal entities can be made electronically on the website of the Austrian so-called Unternehmensserviceportal (USP). All registered legal entities have the right to access their data (free of charge) collected in USP. Tax and financial authorities are also entitled to have access to the data in the register, as well as interested parties for the purpose of prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing.
In order to ensure compliance with the reporting requirements, WiEReG provides for fines. If the legal entity omits the notification, makes unauthorized access or registers incorrect data, makes for a punishable offense, punished up to 200.000 € or imprisonment. We are happy to advise on and provide you with more detailed information about the WiEReG and the legal framework behind it. Therefore, feel free to reach out to our Partner Alexander Rapatz.