The Panama Papers

Panama to form panel to review financial practices

Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela speaking at a news conference on April 6.
Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela speaking at a news conference on April 6. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

PANAMA CITY • Panama said it would form an independent commission to review the country's financial practices following the Panama Papers leak.

"The Panamanian government, via our foreign ministry, will create an independent commission of domestic and international experts ... to evaluate our current practices and propose the adoption of measures that we will share with other countries of the world to strengthen the transparency of the financial and legal systems," President Juan Carlos Varela said in a televised address on Wednesday.

Governments across the world have begun investigating possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful after the leak of more than 11.5 million documents, dubbed the "Panama Papers", from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

In his brief statement, Mr Varela reiterated Panama would work with other countries over the leak, published in an investigation by US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and various news organisations.

In comments to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Varela also vowed to "confront whoever comes to put down Panama's image".

"I call on the OECD countries to return to the table for dialogue and seek agreements, and to not use these events to affect Panama's image," said Mr Varela, whose country depends on the finance sector for 7 per cent of its economic output. There was no immediate reaction to his comments from the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which helps to coordinate the global fight against tax evasion.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday responded for the first time to allegations that he was involved in corrupt schemes with a friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin, saying they were a plot to destabilise Russia.

"Our opponents are above all concerned by the unity and consolidation of the Russian nation... They are attempting to rock us from within, to make us more obedient," said Mr Putin, who was not named in the papers. "So they've created an information product.

"There is a certain friend of the president of Russia, he did such and such a thing, and there is probably a corruption element there," Mr Putin said, referring to Mr Roldugin's naming in the Panama Papers as the owner of two offshore firms which made millions in profits. "But there isn't any (element of corruption)."

In Washington, the US Treasury Department intends to issue a long-delayed rule forcing banks to seek the identities of people behind shell-company account holders in the wake of the leak.

A department spokesman said on Wednesday the rule would "soon" be turned over to the White House for review and issuance, but did not confirm any timetable for the initiative, which has taken years.

The papers offer "validation for those who have been screaming for a decade" about the need for financial institutions in the US and elsewhere to address risks of money laundering, terror finance and other crime by identifying people who clandestinely control legal entities, former Treasury official Chip Poncy said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'Panama to form panel to review financial practices'. Print Edition | Subscribe