Former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ATTORNEY General Allyson Maynard-Gibson confirmed yesterday that officials have undertaken a review of data systems at the Registrar General's Department following the leak of 1.3 million files from the corporate registry.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson emphasised that the unauthorised publication of the data by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) - dubbed 'the Bahamas Papers' - was a very serious matter.
Detailing recent initiatives to upgrade and fulfil its legal mandate, she maintained that the government was committed to the transparency of its corporate registry.
"The Government of The Bahamas officially launched its e-Services Business Registration platform at the Registrar General's Department in January, 2016, as a part of the Government’s ongoing strategy to improve ease of doing business," said Mrs Maynard-Gibson in a press statement on Friday.
"It is important to note that the data required by law to be maintained in the companies registry is available to the public. Further, since 2000, as a part of our compliance regime it has been a legal requirement that a register of directors and officers be filed at the companies registry. The Bahamas remains committed to the transparency of its corporate registry."
The statement continued: "Having said this, we take this matter of an unauthorised publication by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of data held by the online companies registry very seriously.
"A review of our systems is currently underway. Based on the findings, all necessary action will be taken to ensure that we maintain the requisite data protection as we understand the importance of this to our users."
The documents were leaked to the same media agency that received the massive ‘Panama Papers’, an exposé that rocked the industry in April, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and it covers from 1990 to early 2016.
The ICIJ database circumvents the local register’s costly retrieval fee and incomplete online registry by providing 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 installment to the massive Offshore Leaks Database created by the ICIJ has labelled the Bahamas as the “Switzerland of the West”.
The disclosure comes five months after the country’s financial services sector was dragged into the spotlight as a top tax haven in the infamous “Panama Papers”.
The Bahamas was ranked as the third most popular ‘tax haven’ used by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca for company incorporations in the data breach that has sent shockwaves through international finance in April.
The Ministry of Financial Services knocked the ‘Panama Papers’ as a “gratuitous attempt” to produce a negative portrayal of the Bahamas as an international financial centre (IFC).
At that time, the Ministry questioned the motives for the Mossack Fonseca leak in light of the ICIJ's own disclaimer that there was no suggestion of law breaking or impropriety.
In the new Bahamas leaks, ICIJ again makes clear on its website that there is no suggestion of law breaking or impropriety; however, its reporting noted that “police, detectives and fraud investigators use registries as starting points on the trail of wrongdoing".
The 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”.