The Latest: New Zealand reviews its foreign trust rules
LONDON (AP) — The Latest on the publication by a coalition of media outlets of an investigation into offshore financial dealings by the rich and famous (all times local):
New Zealand’s government has appointed a tax expert to review its disclosure rules for foreign trusts and says it’s open to considering changes.
The move represents a change after Prime Minister John Key last week rejected the characterization of the country as a tax haven.
The Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists identified New Zealand as among 21 tax havens used by Mossack Fonseca, the Panama law firm at the center of the offshore accounts scandal.
The review will be conducted by John Shewan, a former New Zealand chairman of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has been asked to report back to government ministers by June 30.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, under fire over his past investment in offshore funds, says he will unveil plans to criminalize the promotion of tax evasion in the workplace.
Cameron said in a statement Monday that his government intends to create criminal penalties for employers, such as the directors of banks and accounting firms, if they are found guilty of failing to prevent their own employees’ promotion of tax evasion schemes. He says Britain must “hold companies who fail to stop their employees facilitating tax evasion criminally liable.”
The prime minister says he will outline the bill and other measures to combat tax evasion to lawmakers later Monday, when Parliament reconvenes following a two-week Easter break. It will be the first time that Cameron faces direct questioning from opposition leaders since he confirmed his past investment in his late father’s Blairmore Holdings, a Bahamas-based fund registered by Mossack Fonseca, the Panama law firm at the center of the offshore accounts scandal.
Germany’s finance minister says countries who don’t participate in an international initiative he’s proposing to help fight tax evasion and money laundering could be subjected to sanctions.
Speaking on ARD television Sunday, Wolfgang Schaeuble said if Panama, for example, refused to share information on who owns and controls companies, “they could be put on a so-called black list and certain financial business with Panama would no longer be possible.”
He says Germany’s focused on increasing transparency rather than banning letter-box companies, which “sounds good but doesn’t work.”
As part of a 10-point proposal in the wake of the Panama offshore accounts revelations, Schaeuble says he’s also suggesting ending Germany’s statute of limitations on tax evasion.
He says tax evaders “shouldn’t be able to find refuge in the statute of limitations.”
Thousands of protesters have rallied in Malta to demand their prime minister fire one of his ministers who opened a company in Panama.
Hours before the rally Sunday in Valletta, the nation’s capital, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat insisted he won’t take any action until a tax audit is completed.
Health and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi says he commissioned an independent audit to prove he’s done nothing wrong.
Mizzi, who is deputy leader of Muscat’s Labor Party, has acknowledged owning a company in Panama that’s held by a trust in New Zealand. But Mizzi insists the leaked documents make no reference to his holding any funds in Panama.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil addressed the rally outside the prime minister’s office.
Britain’s opposition Labour Party says the government should be ashamed of the fact that more than half of the offshore companies identified in the Panama data leak are based in British island tax havens such as the Bahamas, Bermuda, Caymans and British Virgin Islands.
Labour’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, says his party wants Britain’s ethics laws to be tightened so that all politicians will be required to publish details of their offshore investments. He spoke Sunday as he unveiled what Labour called a “tax transparency enforcement program” that proposes giving the treasury greater powers to pinpoint tax evasion in Britain’s far-flung island territories.
McDonnell said: “Tax haven corruption is not just a tax issue. It drives at the very heart of our democracy and its credibility. We risk eroding public trust in our democracy if we do not tackle the issue head on.”
He spoke hours after Prime Minister David Cameron published details of his income and tax payments from 2009 to 2015, a move designed to defuse criticism over his admission that he had profited from a Bahamas investment trust organized by his late father. Cameron’s records showed he paid tax on the 2010 profit.
Germany’s finance minister has proposed an international initiative to standardize and share information that he says will help fight tax evasion and money laundering.
Germany’s Die Welt newspaper reported Sunday that Wolfgang Schaeuble plans to set up a national register in Germany to better identify who owns and controls companies, trusts and other legal structures, as required under new European Union guidelines passed last year.
His plan calls for all countries to standardize and link their national registers, and for access to be given to tax authorities as well as NGOs and journalists.
The Finance Ministry told Die Welt that in the wake of the Panama offshore accounts revelations Germany isn’t currently planning to ban anonymous letter-box accounts and instead believes “full transparency is the correct path” to take.
Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan has called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign, saying documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm indicate his sons own several offshore companies.
Khan warned Sunday he will stage a rally outside Sharif’s residence in the eastern city of Lahore if the prime minister does not quit. He attached no date to the ultimatum.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid rejected Khan’s demand, saying Sharif will not quit over “baseless allegations.”
Khan, a former cricket star, is the leader of Pakistan Tahrik-e-Insaf, which made a strong showing in the 2013 elections.
Last week, Sharif announced the establishment of an independent judicial commission to probe whether his family illegally owns offshore companies and property, as indicated in the so-called Panama Papers.
Spanish online news site El Confidencial has published documents it says show that a former chairman of one of Spain’s largest banks used Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to create an offshore company.
El Confidencial says it has obtained documents that outline how former Caja Madrid Chairman Miguel Blesa in 1989 used Mossack Fonseca to create Danforth Investments in the British Virgin Islands.
The news site says the documents show the purpose of Danforth was to invest in Spain-based companies such as aircraft manufacturer Construcciones Aeronavales SA and arms firm EINSA.
Caja Madrid was merged with seven other Spanish savings banks in 2011 to form Bankia SA, which later had to be nationalized and bailed out by the state for 18 billion euros ($24 billion).
Blesa was chairman of Caja Madrid from 1996 to 2009 and has been under investigation for alleged irregularities in the bank since 2013.
El Confidencial says Blesa’s lawyers have declined to comment on its report.
Newspapers working on the mammoth leak of offshore data say the Panamanian firm at the center of the scandal used the name and reputation of the International Committee of the Red Cross to help obscure the origin of millions of dollars in questionable money.
There’s no suggestion that the humanitarian group knew its name was used in this way. Red Cross spokeswoman Claire Kaplun said Sunday that the revelation was “extremely shocking.”
France’s Le Monde and Switzerland’s Le Matin Dimanche say Mossack Fonseca created dummy foundations to hold shares in some 500 offshore companies. The foundations claimed beneficiaries such as the Red Cross, a maneuver that kept the companies’ true owners anonymous, while cloaking them in an “NGO aura.”
Mossack Fonseca didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.