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1.3m Files Leak In Bahamas Papers

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In this 2014 file photo, the then European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes addresses the media, at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. Kroes was one of the most high-profile names that emerged in a cache of documents of the Bahama's corporate registry leaked Wednesday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and media partners. (AP)

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

FIVE months after the country’s financial services sector was dragged into the spotlight as a top tax haven in the infamous “Panama Papers”, international watchdogs yesterday unveiled a free online database created from 1.3 million leaked files from the Bahamas’ corporate registry.

The database by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) circumvents the local register’s costly retrieval fee and incomplete online registry by providing, for the first time, a publicly searchable forum of the names of directors and some shareholders of more than 175,000 Bahamian companies.

Released in tandem with detailed reporting on the offshore links to high-profile international politicians, including UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the latest instalment to the massive Offshore Leaks Database created by the ICIJ has labelled the country as the “Switzerland of the West”.

The reports detail the country’s longstanding struggle with international tax agencies, namely the United States’ Internal Revenue Service and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), since the 1930s.

For its part, Gerard Ryle, the director of ICIJ, said: “We see it as a service to the public to make this basic kind of information openly available. There is much evidence to suggest that where you have secrecy in the offshore world you have the potential for wrongdoing. So let’s eliminate the secrecy.”

Administered by the Registrar General’s Department, the Corporate Registry can be consulted in person or via its online registry. However, ICIJ argues that the information available online is often incomplete. The international watchdog also took issue with the $10 retrieval fee per document, pointing out that search fees were discouraged by the international association of company registries.

The ICIJ report read: “Bahamian authorities told ICIJ that the country honours its international obligations and cooperates with international authorities. The Bahamas ‘does not tolerate dirty money,’ authorities said, noting it ‘has in many areas been rated as ‘largely compliant’ with international standards.’

Authorities did not comment on specific cases and defended the Bahamian corporate registry.

“Fees for online registry searches covers the cost and upgrading of the online system,” said authorities, according to the ICIJ.

Regarding the sharing of tax information, authorities said, according to ICIJ: “The Bahamas negotiates in good faith with all appropriate partners of the Global Forum for Transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes, subject to…international confidentiality and data security standards.”

ICIJ maintains that the new data does not specify whether directors named in connection with a Bahamian firm “truly control the company or act as nominees, employees-for-hire who serve as the face of the company but have no involvement in its operations.”

Although ICIJ explicitly states on its website that there is no suggestion of law breaking or impropriety, its reporting noted that “police, detectives and fraud investigators use registries as starting points on the trail of wrongdoing.”

The ICIJ report read: “The data released today involves the basic building blocks of offshore companies: a company’s name, its date of creation, the physical and mailing address in the Bahamas and, in some cases, the company’s directors. At a basic level, this information is crucial to day-to-day commerce.”

The documents were leaked to the same media agency that received the massive ‘Panama Papers’, an exposé that rocked the industry back in April, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and its timeline spans from 1990 to early 2016.

In a statement released last night, Minister of Financial Services Hope Strachan said the country remains committed to the transparency of its corporate registry.

“The data required by law to be maintained in the corporate registry is available to the public,” she said in a statement. “The Bahamas is committed to the Registrar General’s Department transitioning to an entirely online service that meets international standards. This transition commenced in 2016 with the advent of the online companies registry.”

Data protection breach

The data leak has raised serious concerns for not only international clients but also domestic companies and individuals, according to Free National Movement Deputy Leader K Peter Turnquest. He termed the disclosure as a “very serious data protection breach” that demonstrated the hostile international agenda to dismantle the country’s economic base. Against the backdrop of the Baha Mar debacle, and controversial stop prosecution orders issued by the Office of the Attorney General, Mr Turnquest said the latest breach of data security gave Prime Minister Perry Christie reasonable cause to reconsider the present ministerial appointments.

Mr Turnquest, the opposition’s shadow minister for finance, also sought to draw a parallel between the breach and the controversial Save the Bays email leak by Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald, arguing that the government would be hypocritical to condemn the Bahamas leaks but condone Mr Fitzgerald’s actions.

“This is very serious and the Attorney General (Allyson Maynard-Gibson) must respond to the threat and advise what steps have been taken to determine if in fact there has been a breach,” he said, “how extensive the problem has been, what information has been illegally accessed, any legal implications to the jurisdiction, have clients been notified of the breach and advised of steps to protect themselves from financial, legal and personal risk, was an IT audit done, has the exposure access points been closed, have other data access points been reinforced and data security and protection been addressed?”

“We would all recall that it was a very recalcitrant Minister of the government (Mr Fitzgerald) who just this week indicated rather arrogantly and belligerently that he would leak private information coming into his possession from undisclosed sources again in similar circumstances. He was speaking about a similar alleged breach of confidential information that highlighted the serious damage that has been done to this sensitive financial services industry.

“We wonder if he has yet realised the danger of his actions and careless speech,” he added.

Topping international reports yesterday was the revelation that UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd served as a director of Bahamian firms Advanced Asset Allocation Fund and Advanced Asset Allocation Management between 1998 and 2000. While there is no suggestion that Ms Rudd used the companies to avoid tax, British newspapers yesterday were quick to point out that Ms Rudd was silent on her own involvement in offshore investment funds when she defended former UK Prime Minister David Cameron whose father was named in the Panama Papers.

Another high-profile link unearthed from the leak is to former European Union Commissioner for Competition Policy Neelie Kroes. Ms Kroes, a Dutch politician, served in the high-ranking post from 2004-2010, but never disclosed that she had been a director of a Bahamian company from 2000 until 2009.

Ms Rudd became an MP in 2010, and according to ICIJ, her lawyers have explained that she did not declare her directorship of the company because it was never operational, and blamed the listing on a clerical oversight that was not corrected.

In a report published by UK news site The Guardian on the “Bahamas Leaks”, one tax expert branded the country as the number one tax haven.

Mark Morris, an adviser to the European parliament and the Tax Justice Network, said: “They are going round the world saying ‘bring your untaxed money to us.’ People send money to Nassau by the billions because they know it’s safe. Even compared to Switzerland, the Bahamas is now the number one tax haven.”

Comments

BoopaDoop 1 year, 2 months ago

Holy Crap Batman!!! It looks like The Central Bank was a sham way before U.R.C.A.

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 2 months ago

This is real trouble here for the those on the dark side of the public and like to hide behind the lack of a Bahamian FOIA........ but the Good Book says what is done in secret (AG Office etc) will be revealed on the house top (ICIJ)

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observer2 1 year, 2 months ago

https://www.icij.org/offshore/former-eu-official-among-politicians-named-new-leak-offshore-files-bahamas

Its worth taking the time to read the article from the ICIJ.org website link above.

One of the most damning insights from the article is that the Bahamian corporate registry database which can be searched online legally is not up to date. For us as Bahamian's this shouldn't come as a surprise. Indeed I would be shocked if the Bahamian Government could keep a database of 175,000 companies up to date with the names of all shareholders, directors, registered offices, shares issued etc. It is beyond our government's capacity. Lol...we can hardly keep the lights on much less the computers.

Of even greater embarrassment is that corporate details at the registry seem to be left off of companies used by high profile global persons. Global regulatory interrogation of the database is even more frustrated by a government cost of $10 for each page. But even if you searched the database legally it will give you nonsense in some instances because its not up to date.

Add the parts of the puzzle together including no automatic tax exchange treaty, a recalcitrant financial services industry and bad record keeping (by design, incompetence, gross negligence or worse) and you should not be surprised when we are black listed again. This time it will be ten times worse than the 2000 black listing. Correspondent banks will walk away to reduce their risk of exposure to the Bahamas. The quasi regulated web shop industry banking through the BoB with the stated aim of the Central Bank to assimilate the industry into the financial system isn't constructive.

We as a country need to reverse course. Sadly the PLP, FNM, DNA and Independent Candidates don't even grasp the severity of our financial problems including spiraling government debt and crushing corporate taxes. I think its may be beyond their intellectual capacity...they just don't know that they don't know, neither do they recognize that there is a larger problem...so it is impossible for them to resolve the issue. The G20 will sort them out.

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TalRussell 1 year, 2 months ago

Comrades! Why have I previously blogged for a mighty long time if the US government is recording every single personal and business call originating out of, or into the Bahamaland, and they're automatically recording calls 7 days/ 24hours every day the year, did I post it only because I was going bananas?
On the contrary, just you go ask the US government any question you want answered under a FOI act and they just might have your answer - including cheating on your spouse or crooking your business partner - the US will know if you've ever talked long distance in or out The Bahamaland.
Any FOI act will be no more reliable than what this or any government will decide if you need to know and what is none your damn business. Why would you believe an FOI act will be any more open with the public than the current attorney general is now or previously has been when granting a nolle prosequi, to discontinue court proceedings?
More than own the property facing the American Embassy, the Chinese record and sees lots stuff too. Lots private stuff on the politicians and their respective political parties, families and special acquaintances and business dealings communications too- via audio, video and emails included - why not?

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HarryWyckoff 1 year, 2 months ago

Please, for the love of anything/everything, learn to write in actual sentences.

Once you've done that, learn punctuation within sentences.

Finally, please learn English, because the words/phrases you use in your overblown, nonsense rhetoric are virtually meaningless, unintelligible garbage to anyone with a vague understanding of the language.

They make you come across like a semi-literate lunatic with minimal grasp of the language, and with delusions of grandeur.

Are you one of the people adding to our D- grade average?

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 2 months ago

"The Bahamas ‘does not tolerate dirty money,’ "

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 2 months ago

This is what happens when an arse like the Wicked Witch of The West (Maynard-Gibson) has responsibility for the completeness and accuracy of our registry of companies. Now the whole world can see the failings of our registry system as run amok by our very Wicked Witch!

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The_Oracle 1 year, 2 months ago

How on earth are they expected to steal and pillage from the treasury if all is open to view? There must be some panicked Larcenous people pretty stressed right now. Slush, theft, shrouded in slackness. What will they do? The answer is probably nothing, as they will still sit atop the pile of crap locally. with a 90% willfully blind population still supporting them. Any of them.

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Sickened 1 year, 2 months ago

There is very little information on our on-line registry because the physical files have been lost for years and years. Every time you need to file something they always ask for the last piece of information because they don't have that earlier piece either. Perhaps the next set of ICIJ documents will be more up-to-date.

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TalRussell 1 year, 2 months ago

Comrades! It's sweet be receiving free information about the sad state of The Bahamaland's Corporate Registry, and from foreigners and all for free to taxpayers'. Maybe some foreigner group will take a peep at the Voters Registry and report back to the nation on the total numbers of the 'Dead Voters' sleeping away until the 2017 General's Votes are to be cast - just waiting to sleepwalk into the Polling Stations to haunt we 2017 Electoral Process?

Santo & Johnny - Sleep Walk

....//////https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogxTQXAgY3Q

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HarryWyckoff 1 year, 2 months ago

What does 'It's sweet be receiving free information' even mean?????

Learn English for f#%ks sake!!!!

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banker 1 year, 2 months ago

Get the names of dead voters from Valentine Grime's briefcase --along with "extra practice ballots"!

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MarMedia 1 year, 2 months ago

I highly doubt that leak came from any government department willingly as mentioned on a few t'bloids. By looking at that data stream and the way it's organized on that website, any clear IT JJoe Blow can see they got hacked and I don't even think they are aware of it! Plain and simple!

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Jetflt 1 year, 2 months ago

TalRussell, you are a stupid, uneducated jackass that has no clue how to write. You make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why don't you find something else to in life and give up writing and opining.

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jmilton 1 year, 2 months ago

I don't understand all the fuzz around this, and why they call it a "Leak". Bahamas Register General’s Office give access to Public Records to anybody who buy "Code" that give you an hour or more access to the Database.

It would take weeks to an human to extract all the data from this database, but a good programmer could make a BOT to automate the extract all absolutely all data in few hours (or maybe day if the server of the government is slow).

I used this service many time in past, not to check the Company Registrar but the public records of Deed & Document to see the value of Real Estate Transaction in the island. I was quite shocked to see that it was possible to download any Conveyance and see the name of the seller, buyer as well as the amount of the transaction in just few click, for any real estate transaction.

I think this is good for transparency and Bahamas Government should be actually proud to have such system in place. In the end it's Bahamas that should be making FUN to all media who create a "Bahamas Leak" moniker around something that is actually public and smell the transparency that all other country in the world want to impose to Bahamas.

As far as I'm concerned, and I'm a resident (not a citizen) : It's still better in the Bahamas.

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ThisIsOurs 1 year, 2 months ago

I wonder if they got this info from Fitzgerald's garbage bin

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