Panama Papers leak: Singapore carries out checks

Protesters in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Monday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, one of those allegedly linked to secret offshore companies. Mr Gunnlaugsson resigned yesterday.
Protesters in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Monday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, one of those allegedly linked to secret offshore companies. Mr Gunnlaugsson resigned yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Republic among countries across the globe investigating offshore company documents

Singapore last night joined several countries which have launched probes into the leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm to uncover any wrongdoing using offshore company structures.

The relevant agencies are reviewing the leaked information and conducting checks. "If there is evidence of wrongdoing by any individual or entity in Singapore, we will not hesitate to take firm action," the Ministry of Finance and the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in a joint statement.

The "Panama Papers" have cast light on the financial arrangements of high-profile politicians and public figures and the companies and financial institutions they use for such activities.

 
 
 
 

Among those named in the documents are friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin and relatives of the leaders of China, Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the President of Ukraine.

Leading figures and financial institutions responded to the massive leak of more than 11.5 million documents with denials of any wrongdoing as prosecutors and regulators began a review of the reports from the investigation by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and other media organisations.

Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson became the first casualty of the leak when he resigned yesterday after facing mass protests, according to national broadcaster RUV.

China has moved to limit local access to coverage of the matter, with state media denouncing Western reporting on the leak as biased against non-Western leaders.

France, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands are among the nations that have started probes, and some countries, including the United States, said they are looking into the matter.

While the Panama Papers detail complex financial arrangements benefiting the world's elite, they do not necessarily mean that the schemes were all illegal.

Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the centre of the leaks, has set up more than 240,000 offshore companies for clients around the globe and denies any wrongdoing. It calls itself the victim of a campaign against privacy and claims media reports misrepresent the nature of its business.

In a statement yesterday, the firm said it has never been charged with or formally investigated for criminal wrongdoing in its nearly 40 years of operation. "We do not advise clients on how to operate their businesses. We don't link ourselves in any way to companies we help incorporate," the firm said.

A North Korean front company used to help fund the country's nuclear weapons programme, DCB Finance, was among the firm's clients, said Agence France-Presse.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement that its Inland Revenue Department has taken note of the documents and will take "necessary actions" based on any information it gets.

Credit Suisse and HSBC, two of the world's largest wealth managers, yesterday dismissed suggestions that they were actively using offshore structures to help clients cheat on their taxes.

Both were named among the banks that helped set up complex structures that make it hard for tax collectors and investigators to track the flow of money from one place to another, according to the ICIJ.

Both banks have in recent years paid large fines to the US authorities over their wealth management or banking operations.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Panama Papers leak: S'pore carries out checks'. Print Edition | Subscribe