…. and this one didn’t get directed to me in time to make the previous article…. but was so good I wanted to get it out to you guys.
Since the initial release of stories by the ICIJ and its media partners across the world, public officials have issued statements, governments have launched investigations, and politicians and journalists have been debating the implications of the records and the reporting.
Among the latest reactions and responses:
Australian tax authorities said they are stepping up efforts to crack down on corporate tax dodging and taking a hard look at wealthy Australians and small companies with offshore holdings following “Offshore Leaks”.
Algirdas Semeta: wants ICIJ and partners to keep digging.EU Commissioner Algirdas Semeta says the Offshore Leaks investigation by ICIJ and its partners has transformed tax politics and amplified political will to tackle the problem of tax evasion.
“I personally think Offshore Leaks could be identified as the most significant trigger behind these developments … It has created visibility of the issue and it has triggered political recognition of the amplitude of the problem”, he told EU Observer. He added that tax transparency overrides the principle of data privacy.
South Korean financial regulators have opened an investigation into possible illicit fund transfers by hundreds of Koreans whose names are included in ICIJ’s “Offshore Leaks” database. “We will investigate every one of them,” a top regulator said. “When doing capital transactions, they’re required to report to the authorities prior to the trades, so now we are investigating whether they violated the law.” ICIJ’s investigative partner, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, revealed that it had identified at least 245 Koreans who established companies in the British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands and other offshore havens.
Canadian Senator Vern White has called for a probe into a fellow legislator’s role in her husband’s use of an offshore hideaway in the South Pacific. The conservative Senator said he has asked the Senate’s ethics officer to look into Liberal Senator Pana Merchant’s role in the matter, saying there are “serious questions” to be dealt with. The Senate ethics office said in a statement that will give Merchant a chance to respond before deciding whether to launch a formal investigation. CBC News and ICIJ revealed last month that Merchant’s husband, famed class-action lawyer Tony Merchant, had shifted some CA$1.7 million (US$1.1 million) into a Cook Islands trust while he was locked in battle with Canadian tax authorities.
Documents show Herbert Stepic, who has worked with the Raiffeisen banking group for four decades and took its eastern European division public, used companies in Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to conduct property deals he did not report to his employer.
Luxembourg has announced that it will begin automatically sharing information with U.S. tax authorities about bank accounts held by American citizens. The tiny western European nation, long known as a haven for banking secrecy, had previously pledged to do the same in regards to citizens of European Union members. “Luxembourg wishes to see the same conditions apply to all competing financial centers and to see the automatic exchange of information accepted as the international standard,” Luxembourg’s finance ministry said. Reuters news service said that the U.S. had stepped pressure on Luxembourg to become more transparent after the release of ICIJ’s high-profile investigation of offshore financial secrecy.
The Council of the European Union issued a statement May 14 calling for efforts at the national, EU and international levels “to combat tax fraud and tax evasion” and “aggressive tax planning.” The statement noted that the council’s presidency plans to ask ICIJ to supply EU member states “with the names and details regarding all EU citizens on the ‘offshore leaks’ list.” ICIJ has said that it will not turn over the data to government agencies, but that it is exploring the possibility of publicly releasing some entity ownership data.
Canada’s revenue minister Gail Shea announced a $30 million commitment to fight tax evasion and target the practice of hiding money in offshore accounts, and the formation of an international tax expert “SWAT team”. Asked if her department now has the list of 450 Canadian names contained within the documents obtained by ICIJ, Shea said: “We currently don’t have the list and I can assure you that we’re looking at all of our options. We’re working with our international partners to get that list.”
The UK Treasury announced that following the lead of the Cayman Islands, all British overseas territories – including Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands – have agreed to share information about individuals holding bank accounts in their jurisdictions with the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
The South China Morning Post reported that the new information exchanges will have real implications for Hong Kong and China companies, which do significant business through the Cayman islands, the British Virgin Islands and other offshore locales.
European finance ministers may reach an agreement to eradicate tax havens on May 13, after a meeting in Helsinki between finance ministers from Finland, Luxembourg, Greece, Slovakia, and Lithuania as well as the European Commissioner on Taxation to discuss measures against tax evasion.
The European Commissioner on Taxation Algirdas Šemeta and Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan sent a letter to all EU Finance Ministers, setting out 7 key areas for immediate action in improving the fight against tax fraud, evasion and avoidance. Member States were asked to agree on these actions at the ECOFIN in May. The letter credits the offshore leaks investigation with “sharpening the focus” on tax fraud, and says it will ask ICIJ to supply names and details of European citizens from its data.
Finance ministers and central bankers at the G20 meeting in Washington said in a communiqué that automatic exchange of tax-relevant bank information should be adopted as the global standard to overcome international tax evasion. Skeptical European leaders reportedly “became more enthusiastic” after the public outcry over ICIJ’s offshore leaks revelations.
Bayartsogt Sangajav, deputy speaker of the Mongolian Parliament, hasbeen dismissed from his post following ICIJ’s revelations about his undeclared offshore company and bank account. In a parliamentary session he was asked to explain his actions. Several MPs called for further disciplinary action, including expelling him from Parliament entirely.
Santosh Kumar Agarwal (Kedia), a member of the board of directors for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, has resigned from the organization after his offshore dealings were revealed. “In the interest of the integrity of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre as [an] organization and the industry as a whole, Kedia has taken the initiative to withdraw from the AWDC’s board of directors, awaiting the outcome of a potential investigation,” said a statement released by the company.”
European Council president Herman Van Rompuy announced that tax evasion will be discussed at the next European Council in May, saying “we must seize the increased political momentum to address this crucial problem.”
The Swiss and U.S. governments are investigating a possible solution to the dispute over wealthy Americans using Swiss banks to hide their money. These talks come at time when Switzerland’s banking sector is under increased pressure to surrender personal information about suspected tax evaders. Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said all countries should be treated equally in the drive for bank transparency. “We consider it very important that rules must apply to all and are engaging ourselves for a level playing field in multilateral forums,” Widmer-Schlumpf said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged UK’s PM David Cameron to crack down on tax havens during talks in Berlin, following a public outcry in Germany over the “offshore leaks.” Sources “close to Cameron” claim he was actually the first to raise the issue, spelling out how his government was cracking down on tax avoidance in places such as Jersey and Guernsey.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov is moving his offshore assets back to Russia after ICIJ’s revelations that Shuvalov’s wife Olga Shuvalova was either a shareholder or owner of several secretive offshore entities. The Shuvalovs had a declared income of $12.7 million in 2011, most of which was earned by Olga.
Spanish political party Unión Progreso y Democracia submitted written questions to the Spanish Congress today in the wake of French president François Hollande’s announcement that French banks had to declare their tax haven subsidiaries. The questions read: Is the government going to present in the European institutions any initiative to eradicate the tax havens within the Member States? and Is the government going to force banks to disclose the subsidiaries they have in tax havens and what are their activities?
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker announced his country plans to lift bank secrecy rules for European Union citizens who have savings based in the country, ending decades of bank secrecy in Luxembourg. “We are following a global movement,” Juncker told parliament in a state-of-the-nation address. The new transparency regime would begin in January 2015. Austria is now the only EU country not sharing data about bank depositors. In a recent interview, Austrian Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Spindelegger Fekter said: “How much money someone has in the bank is a matter between the bank and the customer and is no one else’s business.”
Europe’s five biggest economic powers — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — announced they would begin regularly exchanging banking and tax information as a way of identifying tax dodgers and other financial wrongdoers.
Canada’s national revenue minister Gail Shea says the government may pursue the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in court to force it to share the offshore leaks records.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has declared that neither she, nor any other elected officials in her government have dealings in the offshore world. Marois also supported the handover of internal documents to Canadian authorities, stating the Quebec government would not hesitate to use “all legal means” to ensure this.
French budget minister Bernard Cazeneuve joins the clamor from governments around the globe in urging ICIJ and its media partners to release the offshore tax haven files to them, to “aid justice and help them do their job.” Le Monde‘s response: “It is up to the justice system to establish responsibilities at a time when the law might have been broken … It is up to the press to enlighten the reader…”
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann says he is ready to make concessions on banking secrecy, to bring the nation in step with Switzerland and Luxembourg. “Austria should participate in talks on banking secrecy,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann declared to Die Presse.
The European Commissioner for Taxation, Algirdas Šemeta, called for an automatic exchange of information between countries and a “tough common stance.” “Recent developments, fuelled by the outcome of the Offshore Leaks, confirms the urgency for more and better action against tax evasion …. Now it is time to put words into action.” He said he was “very pleased” to see many of the Member States reviewing where they stand on the issues and “intensifying their political will to act.”
The Swiss government has distinguised itself from other world governments by publicly stating it does not want access to the offshore leaks records. Finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to curb fraud and tax evasion and that much of the activity pointed to in the leaked documents can be perfectly legal. She says the Swiss government does not want access to the data as “it was acquired illegally and Bern wants no part of that”.
The Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government probe into the disclosure that Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was a beneficiary of a secret offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands, will release its report within two weeks. “We are duty bound to investigate and, depending upon informed preliminary findings, decide whether to pursue the matter,” said Andres Bautista, the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, tasked with recovering the Marcos family’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
The president of the Association of German Banks denied that his group’s members had helped customers engage in tax evasion. “First in line are the individuals and the organizations that invest their money in tax oases,” Andreas Schmitz said.”
The Berne internal revenue service authorities announced they will re-open the Gunter Sachs case after ICIJ’s revelations about the former Mr. Brigitte Bardot’s intricate offshore scheme.
In Canada, a Liberal senator urged his caucus colleague, Senator Pana Merchant, to answer questions in the wake of CBC News and ICIJ reports that she has been listed as beneficiary of an offshore trust created by her husband, a well-known class-action attorney. “We’re all innocent until proven guilty in this country, but I want to hear her explanation,” Senator Percy Downe told CBC News in an interview.
In the Philippines, two lawmakers dismissed a report by an ICIJ media partner, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), that they had offshore holdings. Senator Manuel Villar said his offshore entity was a “1-dollar shell company” that he wasn’t required to report, because he hadn’t made any real investment in it. Villar said that he hadn’t conducted business with the British Virgin Islands company “because I decided to concentrate in the Philippines.” Congressman Joseph Victor ‘JV’ G. Ejercito suggested the story about him was politically motivated. “To the best of my knowledge, I have truthfully and accurately declared all my assets, liabilities, and net worth” on required disclosures forms for public officials, he said in a statement.
Germany’s Economics Minister Philipp Rösler urged the media to pass the data on to the government, stressing that tax evasion was a “criminal act.”
Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Luc Frieden says he is open to greater transparency of its banks in order to cooperate further with foreign tax authorities.
The Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said an inquiry had been initiated by the authorities against individuals whose names figured in the global media report. “Yes. We have taken note of the names and inquiries have been put in motion in respect of the names that have been exposed,” he told a press conference.
George Mavraganis, the Deputy Finance Minister of Greece announced that the Greek government is moving to address offshore-driven tax dodging. Greek members of parliament asked Mavraganis what he planned to do about the 103 offshore companies that ICIJ found hadn’t been registered with Greece’s tax authorities.
George Sourlas from Greece’s Ministry of Justice said the revenue loss caused by offshore was huge. “By the actions of offshore companies in Greece, the revenue loss to the Greek government is in the order of 40% or more of the debt of our country,” Sourlas said. “The offshore companies cast a shadow at this time of great crisis, when some get rich and many get poor.”
In France, President Francois Hollande denied knowledge of the offshore accounts held by his 2012 campaign manager, Jean-Jacques Augier, asserting that it’s up to the tax administration to monitor Augier’s private activities. Reports about Augier’s offshore dealings by Le Monde, the BBC and other ICIJ partners came in the wake of news about tax fraud charges against Hollande’s ex-budget Minister, Jerome Cahuzac.
The office of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev asserted there was nothing unusual about the information in the leak – which showed that his two daughters were shareholders of three offshore companies. The statement said the President’s daughters “are grown up and have the right to do business.” A spokesperson for Azersun – a holding company controlled by Hasan Gozal, a corporate mogul who was listed as the director of the daughters’ companies – said the report was biased and based on inaccurate information. “I regret that authority of Press Council doesn’t go beyond Azerbaijan and there is no such institution worldwide to fight racketeer journalists,” the spokesman said.
Ex-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez publicly defended his sons’ involvement in offshore business. Uribe stated that his sons Tomás and Jerónimo are entrepreneurs and “have participated in business dealings since they were children” and “they are not tax evaders.”
In the UK, David Cameron is facing renewed pressure to take action over Britain’s entanglements within the offshore world. Lord Oakeshott, a senior Liberal Democrat said that the secrecy haven of the British Virgin Islands “stains the face of Britain.” Oakeshott and others are questioning whether Cameron will raise the issue in June of at the G8 summit of wealth nations. “How can David Cameron keep a straight face calling for the G8 to make big business pay tax when we let the BVI use British law and British protection to suck in billions in dirty money?” Oakeshott asked.