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Disclosure of Beneficial Ownership under the Companies Act

By Craig Douglas Oyugi, Partner at Africa Law Partners. A short summary of the salient issues arising out of the Companies (Beneficial Ownership Information) Regulations 2020.

Introduction

The Companies Act, 2015 (the Principal Act) was amended by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2017 (Amendment Act) to include, amongst other things, the concept of “beneficial ownership” by including section 93A of the Principal Act. The Amendment Act establishes a register in order to record the information of beneficial ownership and control of Kenyan companies. The Companies (Beneficial Ownership Information) Regulations (the Regulations) were promulgated under Legal Notice 12 of 2020. The concept of beneficial ownership was established as part of Kenya’s efforts to battle corruption and increase transparency in the ownership and control of legal entities.

The Companies Registry of Kenya recently issued a notice stating the operationalisation of the beneficial ownership registry from 13 October 2020.

The effect of registering a “beneficial owner” has numerous implications across different spheres of practice. The following commentary aims to outline these effects in practice.

Who is a Beneficial Owner?

A beneficial owner under the Regulations must be a natural person and not a legal person. In order to be classified as a Beneficial Owner, a natural person must:

  • holds at least ten per cent (10%) of the issued shares in the company either directly or indirectly;
  • exercise at least ten per cent (10%) of the voting rights in the company;
  • hold a right to directly or indirectly appoint or remove a director of the company; or
  • exercise significant influence or control over the company.

This definition includes persons who may hold significant influence or control as a result of a variety of commercial arrangements or instruments such as provisions in the company’s constitutional documents, the rights attached to the shares or securities which a person holds, shareholder agreements or other agreements resulting in giving such person(s) material influence over the company and its affairs.

Obligations of a Company

The Regulations place the following obligations on companies:

      1. A company shall take reasonable steps to identify its beneficial owners and enter their details into a register of beneficial owners which is different from the register of members;

      2. The following information will be included in the register of beneficial owners;

         a. the full name;

         b. full name;

         c. birth certificate number (where applicable);

         d. national identity card number or passport;

         e. Kenya Revenue Authority personal identification number (where applicable);

         f. nationality;

         g. date of birth;

         h. postal, business and residential address;

         i. telephone number;

         j. email address;

         k. occupation;

         l. nature of ownership or control; and

         m. date on which a person became a beneficial owner.

      3. The Regulations require a company to file with the Registrar of Companies (the Registrar), within 30 days of preparation, a copy of the company’s register of beneficial owners. Furthermore, if there is any change in the composition of the company’s beneficial ownership, these changes shall be made on the register of beneficial ownership and filed with the Registrar as soon as the change occurs.

      4. Where a company believes that a person is a beneficial owner it is the company’s duty to investigate and notify the potential beneficial owner. Once notified, the beneficial owner must furnish their particulars within (21) days, failure to which the company must issue a “warning.”

      5. Once a warning has been registered against a beneficial owner’s interest and the beneficial owner persists in omitting their particulars a restriction is placed on the beneficial owner’s interest in the company and is registered in the company’s beneficial ownership register as well as with the Registrar.

Restrictions

The net effect of a restriction on a beneficial owner’s interest in a company is the inability to transact or benefit from the proceeds of their interest in the company. In practice, the restriction against a beneficial owners interests would mean that;

      (i) the beneficial owner would not be able to exercise any rights in respect of their interest;

      (ii) the beneficial owner would not be able to transfer their interest in the company; and

      (iii) no payments from the company can be made to the Beneficial Owner as a result of their interest.

Disclosure of Beneficial Ownership and Data Protection

Although companies have a duty to gather information regarding beneficial ownership, its disclosure is limited to the beneficial owner, the company and the Registrar. It must be noted that the information is not public information, and as such cannot be disclosed for the general public’s consumption. The company is prohibited from disclosing information gathered from a beneficial owner save for if the disclosure is;

      (i) required by the Regulations;

      (ii) for effecting communication with the beneficial owner;

      (iii) in compliance with a court order; or with

      (iv) the written consent of the beneficial owner.

Disclosure of information provided by a beneficial owner in any manner other than in compliance with the Regulations is punishable by a fine not exceeding Kenya Shillings twenty thousand (KES 20,000) or imprisonment for six (6) months or both.

Disclosure of Beneficial Ownership and Nominee or Trustee Shareholding

Companies, for a variety of reasons, have had interests of shareholders held through nominees and trust arrangements. In order to comply with the Regulations, companies will need to disclose who the beneficial owner under a nominee arrangement is and who the ultimate beneficiary is under a trust arrangement. In these instances, the beneficial owner would be the person that derives the true economic benefit from the legal interest in the company.

Conclusion

Transparency in the beneficial ownership of companies in Kenya is a reality. This will inevitably have an effect on ownership through nominees and trust arrangements. This poses additional considerations when structuring transactions where the non-disclosure of a beneficial owner is key. This would need careful consideration, on a case by case basis of the optimal structure to adopt.

Should you require any more information or assistance kindly contact Craig Douglas Oyugi or Samuel Mwendwa Kisuu.

This alert is for general use only and should not be relied upon without seeking specific legal advice on any matter.

A matter of suitability: the CIArb Guidelines on Witness Conferencing

In April 2019, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators released its Guidelines for Witness Conferencing in International Arbitration. The document was developed for use by parties, arbitrators and experts when preparing and presenting evidence in such a conference.

   1. The Witnesses Conferencing: overview

Witnesses conferencing is an evidence-taking process by which two or more witnesses give their evidence concurrently before the arbitral tribunal. According to the Guidelines, it is not a single process, so it can assume different forms in order to assure the efficiency and effectiveness of taking of evidence and procedural orders.

The conferences concern the presentation of evidence of both factual and expert witnesses, although they have been more adopted for the latter. The tribunal, the parties’ or witnesses’ counsel or a combination of these may be responsible for the conduction of the process.

The CIArb document lists some advantages of the adoption of witnesses conferencing. Some examples are the effectiveness brought by conference when receiving the evidence, in comparison with consecutive examination; the improvement of the quality of evidence; and the efficiency brought by an evidentiary hearing, when the tribunal can hear the witnesses at the same time.

It is important to emphasise that the parties and the tribunal need to determine whether this evidence-taking process is the best option for their case. Even though the witness conferencing is adopted, its procedures shall be analysed and suited to the circumstances of the dispute.

   2. The Guidelines

The Guidelines contain as main sections the Checklist, the Standard Directions and the Specific Directions, besides Explanatory Notes with detailed information regarding the Checklist and the two groups of directions.

The Checklist sets out matters to be considered by the parties and the tribunal when determining if the witness conference may be adopted and, in such case, what form the conference may take. A matter of logistics, e.g. if “one or more witnesses is to give evidence by video conference”, refers to both questions of the suitability of the process and the form it should take at the same time. However, the Guidelines warn that “not all of the items […] will be relevant in all cases”.

The Standard Directions are a framework intended to be part of an initial procedural order issued by the arbitral tribunal. It sets principles to be applied when the tribunal “subsequently orders some of the witness evidence to be taken concurrently”. Nevertheless, it does not mean that the taking of consecutive evidence is dispensed.

The Specific Directions apply once the parties and the tribunal decided to adopt the process of taking evidence concurrently. It provides three different procedural frameworks: Tribunal-led Conference, Witness-led Conference and Counsel-led Conference. The Guidelines also allow the tribunal to combine these frameworks, to draw on different directions and to incorporate other directions. The aim of this section is to point which direction may be the most suitable for the case.

The CIArb Guidelines are an important document to assist the parties and the tribunal due to their flexibility and precise information. Once the suitability of the witness conferencing is carefully analysed, the Guidelines may help the international arbitration players even after the adoption of the process.

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators received this year the Global Arbitration Review Award in Bert Innovation by an organisation for the Witness Conferencing Guidelines.

Norton Rose Fulbright EMEA Chair, Farmida Bi, is awarded CBE

Norton Rose Fulbright’s Chair of Europe, Middle East and Asia, Farmida Bi, has been made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2020 for services to the legal profession and to charity. Farmida is also Chair of the Trustees of The Patchwork Foundation.

The CBE is awarded to individuals for having a prominent role at national level, or a leading role at regional level. CBEs are also awarded for distinguished and innovative contribution to any area.

Peter Scott, Managing Partner, Europe, Middle East and Asia, said: “The firm is delighted for Farmida. She is a lawyer who specialises in innovative and market leading transactions, particularly in Islamic finance, and is a passionate advocate for social justice, who has worked tirelessly to champion social equality both within the firm and in our wider communities. It is great to see that Farmida’s work in the legal profession and her efforts to support the positive integration of disadvantaged and minority communities have been recognised.”

Digital justice in Brazil

The National Justice Council (www.cnj.jus.br) of Brazil has just approved the adoption of a totally remote system of Justice by the Judiciary instances. Known as “100% digital Justice”, it will be an option to the parties in a judicial procedure.

For the moment, the system, when adopted by the Brazilian courts, will be facultative. However, the CNJ understands that it will bring more efficiency to the proceedings, meeting the constitutional principle of the reasonable duration of the judicial process, a fundamental right, according to the Brazilian Constitution.

The decision was made considering the successful experience that the courts had with the remote proceedings adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brazil implemented the electronic process system in 20**. Since then, many measures are being taken to eliminate paper based process. Now, the digital era is covering all the system, including hearings and judgement sessions.

It seems that Brazilian Justice maybe very close to the on line courts model, in the words of Richard Susskind, strengthening the idea that Justice is a service, and not a venue.

The New Company Law and the Constitutional Rights of Nigerians

The Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2019 (“the new CAMA”) recently signed into law by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a welcome development to Nigerian businesses. It has addressed the bottlenecks in formation of business entities and improved Nigerian corporate governance. It has also given leverage to small companies to thrive and incorporated technological innovations to the processes of the Corporate Affairs Commission (“Companies’ Registry”) to facilitate the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

However, the legislature in extending the powers of the Companies’ Registry to effectively regulate the activities of Churches, Islamic Religious Organisations, Charity and Non-Government Organisation which are registered as Incorporated Trustees (“associations”) has introduced some new provisions in the new CAMA which are capable of usurping the fundamental rights of citizens to their freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion, freedom of peaceful assembly and association and constitutional rights of access to Courts.

It is upon this premise that the Plaintiff, a Nigerian Citizen and Legal Practitioner, commenced Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1076/ 2020; Emmanuel Ekpenyong Esq. v. National Assembly, Corporate Affairs Commission and Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation at the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, challenging the constitutionality of some provisions of the new CAMA.

The Plaintiff contends that Section 839 of the new CAMA which gives power to the Companies’ Registry to remove trustees and appoint an interim manager to take over an association where it reasonably believes that there is misconduct, mismanagement, fraudulent practices, for protection of the property of the association and public interest; Section 842, Section 843, Section 844 of the new CAMA which gives the Companies’ Registry the powers to control the proceeds of a dormant account of an association and dissolve an association on account of its dormant account; Section 845, Section 846, Section 847 and Section 848 of the new CAMA which directs associations to keep and submit their statement of affairs and accounting records to the Companies’ Registry, infringes the Plaintiff’s freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion enshrined in Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) (“the Constitution”).

The Plaintiff opines that Churches, Islamic religious organisations, Charity and Non-Governmental Organisations give hope to the Plaintiff and the Nigerian people. The activities of associations augment the efforts of government. They act as watchdogs for the people and put the government in check. It is unfortunate for the provisions of the new CAMA to put the activities of associations under the complete whims and caprices of the Companies’ Registry which is an agency of the Federal Government.

The law provides for every association to have a Constitution which regulates the affairs of the association and protect them against misconduct, mismanagement, fraudulent or other activities which are contrary to the objects of the association. Hence, the Companies’ Registry has no business whatsoever in suspending trustees and appointing interim managers for them. This is a sure recipe for disaster. The activities of associations are not against public interest to warrant such draconian provisions.

The funds of associations are not public funds. They are contributions, offerings and freewill donations of members to carrying out their objectives. There is no legal justification for the Companies’ Registry to be interested in the dormant account of associations. Associations are non-profit making organisations. They are not business ventures as such the Companies’ Registry cannot be ingrained in the affairs of associations by expecting them to submit statement of affairs or accounting records to the Registry.

The Plaintiff has a freedom to his thought, conscience and religion alone or in community with others. The Plaintiff has a right to propagate his religion, worship, teaching, practice and observance in public or private and does not even need to register same with the Companies’ Registry to propagate same. Therefore, giving powers to the Companies’ Registry who is an outsider and complete stranger to determine the affairs of a place where the Plaintiff professes his thoughts, conscience and religion is an aberration which is in contravention of Section 38 of the Constitution.

Furthermore, the Plaintiff contends that Section 839, Section 843, Section 844, Section 845, Section 846, Section 847 and Section 848 of the new CAMA infringe his freedom to peaceful assembly and association. This is because the Companies’ Registry has a wide discretion to appoint interim managers to replace suspended trustees. The interim managers to be appointed by the Companies’ Registry may have nothing in common with the members of the association and the members will not have a right to challenge such appointment.

This will impair the rights of members of associations to actively participate in activities of their associations and determine its direction. The enormous and dictatorial powers given to the Companies’ Registry to intrude and interfere with the operations and management of associations is not legally justifiable. The use of phrases such as “is satisfied”, “reasonably believes”, “deem it necessary”, “public interests” in relation to the powers of the Companies’ Registry over associations are ambiguous phrases that can easily lead to an abuse of power by the Companies’ Registry and contravene the Plaintiff’s freedom to associate peacefully with other persons enshrined in Section 40 of the Constitution.

Again, the Plaintiff contends that the provisions of Section 851 of the new CAMA which gives powers to the Administrative Proceedings Committee to hear cases arising from the provisions of the new CAMA limits the Plaintiff’s constitutional rights of access to Courts. Section 6 (1) and 6 (b) of the Constitution confers judicial powers to the Courts. Section 36 (1) of the Constitution gives citizens the right to access an independent and impartial Court to determine their civil rights and obligations. Section 251 (1) (e) of the Constitution provides for the Federal High Court to hear any matter arising from the provisions of the new CAMA.

Hence, the provision of Section 851 of the new CAMA comes as a very huge surprise. The composition of the Administrative Proceedings Committee is made up mostly of employees of the Companies’ Registry who are involved or aware of the issue which caused the dispute in the first place. It is against the principle of natural justice for a person to be a judge in his own case. In most disputes arising from the provisions of the company law or regulations, the Companies’ Registry is usually a party to the dispute.

The Companies’ Registry cannot independently and impartially determine a dispute which it is also a party. If this is allowed the Companies’ Registry will be a party and judge in its own case. It is without doubt that Section 851 of the new CAMA is contrary to the Plaintiff’s rights of access to Courts enshrined in Section 6 (1) 6 (b), Section 36 and Section 251 (1) (e) of the Constitution.

In conclusion, the Plaintiff contends that his freedom of conscience, thoughts and religion, freedom of peaceful assembly and right to access to Court are so serious and the only way to ensure that the rights are protected in the circumstance, is for the provisions of Section 839, Section 843, Section 844, Section 845, Section 846, Section 847 and Section 848 and Section 851 of the new CAMA to be expunge from the new CAMA. The Plaintiff prays for an order of mandatory injunction of the Court directing the Defendants to expunge the offending provisions of the new CAMA.

Setting Aside a Judgment in Nigeria

The essence of civil proceedings is for the judgment creditor to enjoy the fruits of his Judgment. This may be achieved by the judgment creditor executing the Judgment by the attachment and sale of the moveable or immovable property of the judgment debtor, attachment of funds belonging to the judgment debtor in the possession of a third party under the garnishee proceedings or committal of the judgment debtor to prison for refusal to settle the judgment debt under the judgment summons proceedings. However the following are the grounds upon which a Nigerian Court will set aside execution of a Judgment;

(i) If the judgment creditor executed the Judgment against a person other than the judgment debtor;

There are instances where a judgment creditor who is desperate to obtain payment of the judgment debt, attaches the movable property of a third party in the premises of the judgment debtor. Upon the application of the third party with proof that the property belongs to him and not the judgment debtor, the Court would set aside the execution of the Judgment.

(ii) If the person against whom the Judgment was executed, was never a party to the suit.

A judgment creditor cannot legally execute a Judgment against a person who was not a party to the suit upon which he obtained Judgment. This is so even if the person against whom the Judgment was executed is the judgment debtor’s successor-in-title. For instance, if a defendant dies before Judgment is delivered, the judgment creditor ought to bring an application to substitute the defendant’s name with that of his successor-in-title and serve the successor-in-title with all the processes in the suit.

If the judgment creditor fails do so and the Judgment is delivered against the defendant, the judgment creditor cannot sustain an execution against the defendant’s successor in title. This is because the successor-in-title was not a party to the suit. In law, the defendant and his successor-in-title are distinct and different persons.

(iii) Lack of service of the processes on the judgment debtor

If the judgment creditor failed to effect service of the processes in the suit on the judgment debtor in line with the provisions of the relevant statutes on service of processes, the Court would set aside the execution of the Judgment against the judgment debtor. This is because service of processes on the judgment debtor goes to the root of the suit and affects the jurisdiction of the Court to validly enter Judgment against the judgment debtor. Lack of service is a clear breach of the judgment debtor’s fundamental right to fair hearing and makes the proceedings conducted a nullity and of no legal effect whatsoever.

(iv) Lack of jurisdiction of the Court who delivered the Judgment

Jurisdiction of Court is a threshold issue. If the Court who delivered the Judgment which the judgment creditor executed against the judgment debtor had no jurisdiction in the first place over the subject matter of the suit or exceeded its statutory jurisdiction, the judgment debtor may apply to set aside the execution of the Judgment.

(v) Execution of a Judgment outside the stipulated statutory period

Order IV Rules 8 (1) and (2) of the Judgment Enforcement Rules provides that a Judgment shall be executed against the property of a judgment debtor within 6 (six) years and against the person of the judgment debtor within 2 (two) years from the date in which the Judgment was delivered, failing which the judgment creditor must file an exparte application for leave of Court to execute the Judgment outside the stipulated statutory period.

If a judgment creditor, without leave of court, execute a Judgment outside the stipulated statutory period, the judgment debtor may apply to the Court to set aside the execution of the Judgment.