Leonid Bershidsky, Were the Panama Papers Planted? Who Cares (Bloomberg View 4/15/16), here.
The opening salvo
Last week, a respected Russia scholar in the U.S. speculated that the Kremlin might be behind the so-called Panama Papers, the big dump of data about offshore accounts that has implicated several countries' officials in shady dealings. And on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin of Russia blamed the U.S. for the leak.And the closing:
But I would argue that, in the end, that the provenance isn't important -- only the accuracy of the data is.
Putin has confirmed that the Russian part is accurate. The information is, of course, more damaging than Putin is willing to admit: It exposes the inner workings of Russia's crony capitalism. he material also has proved accurate regarding accounts of people from Iceland, Spain, the U.K. and elsewhere. So why get hung up on its source? It makes much more sense to applaud the work of the investigative journalists who checked and developed the leak. It's an extraordinary collective performance by a much-maligned professional community that has proved convincingly that it has an important social role to play.Andrew Mayeda and Mark Deen, G-20 Threatens Penalties on Tax Havens After Panama Papers (Bloomberg 4/15/16). here.
Group of 20 economies threatened to penalize havens that don’t share information on their banking clients after the leak of the Panama Papers provoked a global uproar over tax evasion.
The G-20 will consider “defensive measures” against financial centers and jurisdictions that don’t commit to an international standard requiring the exchange of information about account holders, the group’s finance ministers and central bankers said Friday in a statement after meeting in Washington.
The group said it would work with the OECD to come up with criteria for identifying “non-cooperative jurisdictions” by July, adding that improving the transparency on who controls legal tax entities is vital to the international financial system.
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The statement refers to a global standard developed by the OECD and endorsed by the G-20. The standard calls on tax jurisdictions to share information on an annual basis about their banking systems, including the names and tax identification numbers of account holders.
The language on tax and financial transparency amounts to a victory for major European nations including the U.K., France and Germany, who a day earlier agreed to automatically share information on the ultimate owners of companies and trusts.
China put up the most resistance to the tax-related part of the G-20 statement, and the U.S. was also reluctant, according to two G-20 officials familiar with the talks; one person said China was the main reason why the statement didn’t single out Panama. The officials asked not to be identified because the meetings were private.
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“With the Americans, there’s always a bright side and a dark side. They have helped us a lot to move things forward,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters on Friday, citing the automatic exchange of account information. “The Americans have a slightly different system and it’s very difficult to win majorities in the U.S. Congress to adapt to the international system.”
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said at a press briefing that the G-20 made a “very strong statement in the communique on our collective view that we need to act to deal with tax shelters and the problem of an international tax system permitting havens to develop.”Juliette Garside, Panama Papers: inside the Guardian's investigation into offshore secrets (4/16/16), here. An excellent story of the secret investigation of the Panama Papers.
ICIJ, Panama Papers The Power Players, here, an ongoing site to
Sign up to ICIJ’s mailing list, and receive a guided email tour of the Panama Papers investigation featuring the project’s biggest findings, background information and exposing how the offshore finance industry impacts lives around the world. We’ll also keep you up to date with the latest news from ICIJ’s investigations.Peter Ford, The deeper cost of the Panama Papers: angry publics and unbuilt schools (Christian Science Monitor 4/15/16), here.
Reforms under way
The world’s governments are paying attention. The Group of 20 has tasked the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the rich countries’ club, with designing a system for the automatic exchange of information among national tax authorities, to improve cooperation among them.
This is due to take effect next year, but its reach will be limited by the fact that the United States will not be part of it.
The OECD has also come up with a new international accounting standard that will prevent multinational corporations from reporting all their profits in a low-tax country such as Luxembourg. Instead they will have to break their income down country by country, and pay taxes in each location.
That should help developing countries collect more money, but the new rules will bind only companies with more than $750 million in annual turnover, which will limit their impact.
At the same time, activists are pushing for a public registry in every country of all companies and their real owners; Britain is setting up such a registry, but is not requiring any of its overseas dependencies – most of which are tax havens – to sign up.
Activists and reform-minded governments are strengthened by rising public awareness and outrage. “Protests against tax havens are happening around the world, from Iceland to Nigeria,” points out Shaazka Beyerle, author of a recent book on “people power” movements against corruption. “There is potential for their development into organized nonviolent resistance.”
Tax havens “have rocketed really fast to a significant place on the international agenda,” says Ms. Clough of Global Financial Integrity.Nicholas Lemann, The Panama Papers and the Monster Stories of the Future (New Yorker 4/14/16), here. A really interesting discussion of how these and future stories get from leaker to the public, including why the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal did not participate in the effort to analyze and present the Panama Papers.