Panama pledges to fight money laundering after leaks

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela (left) told French President Francois Hollande his country was committed in the fight against money laundering following the massive leak coming from Mossack Fonseca, in Panama City, on April 6, 2016.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela (left) told French President Francois Hollande his country was committed in the fight against money laundering following the massive leak coming from Mossack Fonseca, in Panama City, on April 6, 2016. PHOTO: AFP/ EPA

PANAMA CITY (AFP) - Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela assured his French counterpart Francois Hollande on Friday (April 8) his country was committed to cooperating in the fight against money laundering, his office said.

Varela, whose government is reeling from the so-called Panama Papers leaks, spoke with Hollande by phone after France said it was putting his country back on its list of those that do not cooperate in efforts to track down tax dodgers.

Varela emphasised Panama's "commitment to continue cooperating with the international community in the fight against the improper use of financial and corporate services," the presidency said.

Hollande for his part "strongly encouraged" the Central American country to respond to information requests from French tax authorities and begin automatic data-sharing "as quickly as possible," his office said.

Earlier, the French finance ministry officially returned Panama to its list of Uncooperative States and Territories (ETNC), four years after removing it following a bilateral deal on fighting tax evasion.

Varela has been left battling for his nation's reputation after millions of documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca lifted a veil on how rich, powerful and sometimes criminal figures worldwide are channeling offshore financial dealings through Panama.

The Panamanian leader insisted his government had made "important progress" on "strengthening" the country's financial services sector, but pledged to take steps to guarantee the full implementation of the deal with France.

The two presidents agreed to set up a meeting of their finance ministers in the coming days, Varela's office said.