AML contact person + new declaration for companies in Bulgaria (foreign-owned)

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Money laundering – through banks, real estate, nominees or other schemes – is a crime according to Bulgarian Criminal Code as it is all over the world.  In connection to this in 2018 Bulgaria launched a new Law on Measures Against Money Laundering which totally repealed the previous one in force. The new law fully complies with European standards and in particular with Directive (EC) 2015/849 on the Prevention of the Use of the Financial System for Money Laundering or Terrorist Financing. The changes are mainly related to the imposition of new obligations to those who are defined as “obliged entities” – these are all natural and legal persons, who are committed to the observance and implementation of the anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing measures referred to in the same law.

One of the main obligations under the new Bulgarian Anti-Money Laundering Act is related to all companies, including branches of foreign commercial companies registered in Bulgaria. When entering into business relations with their clients / contractors obliged entities must apply measures for comprehensive check of their client, including identification of the beneficial owner of their clients – legal entities. By virtue of this law “a client” is any natural or legal person or other legal entity that enters into business relations or performs a random business transaction with an obliged person. In case a client appears not personally, but through a nominee, in order to be able to perform this identification, the obliged person must consult the relevant Bulgarian register (Trade Register, BULSTAT register) as well as to obtain an official document (contract, certificate or other) showing who the beneficial owner is.

The new Anti-Money Laundering Act requires that legal entities  submit to the relevant public register (Commercial Register, BULSTAT Register) a specific declaration about their beneficial  owner. The declaration is required to be presented by the legal representative / the manager of the company. It is this particular declaration and its submission that is a subject of the most discussions. At first glance, it appears that all companies must submit a declaration to the relevant registry, regardless of the form of their company. But as you read the law, you can see that this declaration is not necessarily needed for natural persons. This means that  a Ltd. company, which has a natural person registered as the sole owner of the capital, is not obliged to declare and prove again that this person is the real owner of the respective commercial company. This is not the case, however,  if the owner of the company is not a physical person, but another legal entity, whether Bulgarian or foreign. In this case the respective national public register does not show directly who the primary beneficial owner is and therefor the submission of a declaration in this case is mandatory.

When it comes to a Limited Liability Partnership, the obligation for declaration of the actual owner is more logical as there are at least two partners (natural or legal persons). For a company in which we have, for example, two associate natural persons holding 50% of the capital each there isn’t a obligation for declaration of a beneficial owner as the names of both are disclosed and are visible in the register. When there are more partners – physical persons in the association, some of which hold less than 25% of the capital, the latter shall not be declared as beneficial owners. If the minority partners with shareholding less 25 % are legal entities, however, their beneficial owners should be declared regardless of the fact that their share is minoritary.

Along with the declaration of a beneficial owner, the new law introduces another obligation for all Bulgarian companies. Every company shall declare a contact person (sort of AML officer) for communication with tax and state authorities which person must be permanently residing in Bulgaria. This is a practical problem for all Bulgarian companies founded by foreign shareholders.  Additional difficulty to foreign company owners will be the fact that the contact person must express his consent by a special notary certified statement. Upon giving such statement, a number of obligations will arise for the contact person, such as an obligation to receive, dispose of and provide appropriate and accurate information and data about the beneficial owners. The contact person  can be fined  between BGN 100 to BGN 1,000 for non-fulfillment of this obligation, and in case of a repeated violation – the fine shall be from BGN 200 to BGN 2,000.

According to the new law, the deadline for filing the declaration of the beneficial owner and contact person of the legal entity is February 1, 2019. However, information appeared in the media that this period may be extended as the Regulation on Application of Anti-Money Laundering Measures is not ready yet and some of the forms have not been published. For the moment, however, there is no clear and accurate information whether this will happen.  

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