Statement from OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría
The “Panama Papers” revelations have shone the light on Panama’s culture and practice of secrecy. Panama is the last major holdout that continues to allow funds to be hidden offshore from tax and law enforcement authorities. The OECD has been leading a global crackdown on these practices since 2009, working hand-in-hand with the G20. Through the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information, we have constantly and consistently warned of the risks of countries like Panama failing to comply with the international tax transparency standards. Just a few weeks ago, we told G20 Finance Ministers that Panama was back-tracking on its commitment to automatic exchange of financial account information. The consequences of Panama’s failure to meet the international tax transparency standards are now out there in full public view. Panama must put its house in order, by immediately implementing these standards.
While the “Panama Papers” data expose nefarious activities, they also show a decline in the use of offshore companies and bearer share companies, which is a testament to the incredible transformation effected in the last 7 years to establish robust international standards on tax transparency, including on beneficial ownership: 132 jurisdictions have committed to the standard on exchange of information ‘on request.’ Of those, 96 jurisdictions will introduce automatic exchange of financial account information within the next 2 years. Almost 100 jurisdictions have joined the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. As a result of our in-depth peer review process, the use of bearer share companies is close to being eliminated across the world, and the beneficial ownership rules have been strengthened to ensure that information is now available to tax authorities when they need it.
Establishing global standards and making commitments are just the start though. Effective implementation is the key to lifting the veil of secrecy once and for all and eradicating tax evasion. The time has come to make sure that no jurisdiction can benefit from failing to meet their commitments. In the run-up to September’s G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou, we must use every opportunity to deliver. The next G20 Finance Ministers meetings and the Global Anti-Corruption summit taking place in London in May will be critical.
Q&A on Panama Papers
What does the release of the “Panama Papers” actually tell us?
The Panama Papers describe in detail how a veil of secrecy is still allowing funds to be transferred between jurisdictions and held offshore, where it can be hidden from tax authorities. Panama’s consistent failure to fully adhere to and comply with international standards monitored by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes is facilitating the use of offshore financial centres for hiding funds, depriving governments of tax revenue and often aiding and abetting criminal behaviour.
The Panamanian government says that the OECD has recognised its efforts to improve access to information about beneficial ownership of entities and its willingness to share such information with authorities in other jurisdictions. Is this actually true?
The OECD has been working for more than seven years to establish robust international standards on tax transparency and ensure their implementation. In 2009, when the initial objective of the Global Forum was to reach international agreement on the Exchange of Information on request, most countries and jurisdictions were quick to get on board, while a few, including Panama, were reluctant to make commitments or move forward along with the rest of the international community. After many years of resistance, Panama updated its domestic legislation in 2015, which provided the basis upon which to engage in the phase of the review process that assesses whether effective information exchange is actually taking place. Panama remains well behind most other comparable international financial centres.
To push the transparency agenda forward, the G20 identified Automatic Exchange of Information as a new international standard in 2014, and almost 100 jurisdictions and countries have already agreed to implement it within the next two years. Whilst almost all international financial centres including Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Jersey, Singapore, and Switzerland have agreed to do so, Panama has so far refused to make the same commitment. As part of its ongoing fight against opacity in the financial sector, the OECD will continue monitoring Panama’s commitment to and application of international standards, and continue reporting to the international community on the issue.
Is Panama the only outlier, or is it the tip of the iceberg? Are there other jurisdictions posing similar problems?
Having conducted well over 200 Phase 1 and 2 peer reviews in the past 7 years, the Global Forum has identified a number of member countries and jurisdictions whose legal and regulatory framework for the exchange of information are as yet not up to international standards. They include Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Micronesia, Nauru, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu. It is clear that there are other jurisdictions where a lack of information on beneficial ownership of corporate and other entities is facilitating illicit flows.