By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
MINISTER of Finance K Peter Turnquest yesterday said the government is monitoring the release of another major leak of financial papers for possible industry fallout.
Mr Turnquest told The Tribune the release of “Paradise Papers,” said to be the second-largest data leak after the explosive 2016 Panama Papers, highlights the importance of the country’s efforts to educate global markets on its compliance.
The Paradise Papers cover the period from 1950 to 2016, and were obtained by the same German newspaper that received last year’s Panama Papers - Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The leak centres on client documents of Bermuda law firm Appleby; however, it also includes data from 19 corporate registries in “secrecy jurisdictions,” of which The Bahamas is listed alongside other Caribbean countries like Antigua, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
“We continue to follow the fall out and what that may mean for our financial services industry,” Mr Turnquest, who is in England, said.
“Just today in London, I observed on television the pointed question and answer period in the British Parliament on the issue of BEPS [Base erosion and profit shifting, ie tax avoidance strategies] and investment strategies of UK citizens in overseas territories.
“The discussion again highlights the importance of our own jurisdiction’s continued efforts to get ahead of this issue (BEPS) and the need to engage and educate the UK, EU and OECD parliamentarians and officials on tax exchange and compliant offshore investment structures in The Bahamas and other international financial centers, which benefits their citizens and promotes free cross border trade in services just as they push free trade in goods to our citizens, which we recognize as a general benefit in the global economy.”
Last year, officials launched a review of data systems at the Registrar General’s Department following the leak of 1.3 million files from the corporate registry.
Dubbed ‘The Bahamas Papers’, it covers from 1990 to early 2016 and was published by the same entity behind the Paradise and Panama Papers - International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Süddeutsche Zeitung.
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 labelled The Bahamas as the “Switzerland of the West”.
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 sent shockwaves through international finance in April last year.
The Ministry of Financial Services - at the time - knocked the Panama Papers as a “gratuitous attempt” to produce a negative portrayal of The Bahamas as an international financial centre (IFC).
As in previous leaks, the ICIJ again makes clear on its website there is no suggestion of law breaking or impropriety; however, its reporting noted “police, detectives and fraud investigators use registries as starting points on the trail of wrongdoing”.