Panama papers: NGOs call for transparency on taxation

Vladimir Putin spokesman says ‘Putinophobia’ means it is impossible to speak well of Russia

 A general view of the Hong Kong offices of Panama-headquartered law firm Mossack Fonseca. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

A general view of the Hong Kong offices of Panama-headquartered law firm Mossack Fonseca. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA


NGOs have called for worldwide transparency on taxation in the wake of the release of the Panama paper as international reaction continues.

The Panama Papers leak of millions of documents lifts the lid on how offshore companies are used by the global elite to conceal the ownership and control of assets and property worth billions.

Members of The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which includes The Irish Times, have spent more than a year examining a cache of 11.5 million documents and records from Panama-based Mossack Fonseca, one the biggest providers of offshore services to individuals, companies and middle men who advise them.

French president François Hollande said the revelations were good news that would help boost tax revenues. French minister for finance Michel Sapin said the authorities would seek access to the papers. Once authorities have acquired and verified the information, they would review the taxes of the individuals concerned and apply any penalties, notably for non-declared foreign bank accounts and shelf companies.

In Russia, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin dismissed allegations against the president. On Russian TV Rain, the spokesman said the document release was aimed at an external audience.

“It’s clear that the level of Putinophobia has reached a level at which it’s impossible to speak well of Russia, and it’s required to speak ill of Russia,” he said.

Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been defended by members of his government. When asked about offshore companies reportedly owned by the Sharif, the country’s information minister, Pervez Rasheed, said “Every man has the right to do what he wants with his assets, to throw them in the sea, to sell them, or to establish a trust for them”.

“There is no crime in this in Pakistani law or in international law.”

The UK government has not commented on a story reported in the Guardian, on the tax affairs of prime minister David Cameron’s late father, Ian Cameron. A Downing Street spokeswoman said there was no comment on “a family matter”.

John Key, prime minister of New Zealand defended his government’s tax record, after the Panama documents showed links to offshore trusts set up by Maltese politicians and officials. He said New Zealand was given a “clean bill of health” by the OECD in 2013, following a review of its tax laws.

In Australia more than 800 wealthy Australians are under investigation by the Australian Taxation Office for possible tax evasion linked to their alleged dealings with Mossack Fonseca, according to Associated Press,.

Prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, has come under pressure to resign from opposition there. They have planned a vote of no confidence after leaked documents about his wife’s ownership of a tax haven-based company with large claims on the country’s collapsed banks.

Oxfam Ireland has called for a global tax body to oversee the payment of tax by wealthy individuals and corporations.

Jim Clarken, chief executive of the charity, said the current global tax system just does not work because business has evolved, borders don’t exist to the extent they did and there is a complexity to taxation that wasn’t there before.

He said there should be a global system to which all countries could sign up.

“We are not talking about a unified tax rate or anything like that, just a set of rules that every country in the world can agree to that will essentially remove the opportunities for people to play one country of against another to benefit themselves or their corporations,” he said.

The charity has estimated, based on UN and other figures, that $150 billion is lost in tax revenue by wealthy individuals not paying their fair share every year.

Campaigning group Transparency International called for a crackdown on “the many ways wealthy people can shelter their money from tax”. A spokesman said the only way to stop this “grand corruption” is through governments, businesses and others coming together and rejecting dirty cash as illegitimate.

“The time has come to stop turning a blind eye to anonymous purchases of luxury property and goods, refuse to issue unvetted investment visas and create a legal framework that is fit for purpose in detecting flows of dirty cash,” he said.

A spokesman for charity Action Aid said the Panama papers show those with the means to do so, are able to break the rules on a massive scale, benefiting at the expense of ordinary citizens, with the poorest countries in the world being hit hardest.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said he has written to the Revenue Commissioners urging a full investigation into any potential loss to the Irish State revealed by the Panama Papers.

He has also called for legislative action on country by country reporting and the creation of a public register of beneficial owners of companies as concrete ways of fighting such avoidance and potential evasion of tax.

“The public interest demands an immediate Revenue investigation and the bringing into the public light of as much information as possible,” he said.

- Additional reporting Reuters