White House to crack down on shell companies in US in wake of Panama Papers

US President Barack Obama speaks about the economy and corporate tax inversions in the White House in Washington, on April 5, 2016.
US President Barack Obama speaks about the economy and corporate tax inversions in the White House in Washington, on April 5, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States announced measures on Thursday (May 5) to crack down on the use of shell companies inside this country that can be used for tax evasion and money laundering.

The White House said it would close loopholes that allow foreigners to open anonymous US-incorporated companies, and advance legislation requiring banks, brokers and other financial institutions to know and keep records on who actually owns accounts.

New laws will also be proposed requiring companies themselves to know and report their true owners.

The move comes amid a rising tide of government support around the world for fighting tax evasion and other financial crimes that is enabled by the lack of transparency in the banking system.

 

It also follows shortly after the embarrassing Panama Papers leak of thousands of documents from a Panama law firm showed just how common it is for wealthy people and criminals to hide and move money through anonymous shell companies and little-regulated tax havens.

Powerful officials, including the leaders of Russia, Iceland, Britain and Argentina, were linked by the Panama Papers to offshore tax havens.

The White House said in a statement that the new steps add to international efforts at greater transparency in the global financial system, "so that criminals and tax cheats cannot hide their activities using anonymous shell companies and other legal entities."

"These efforts are critical to preventing criminals from using the global financial system to launder proceeds from corruption or other illegal activities, finance criminal activity or even terrorism, evade international sanctions regimes, or evade taxes."

The Panama Papers, the White House added, "underscore the importance of the efforts the United States has taken domestically, and the efforts we have undertaken with our international partners, to address these shared challenges."

The Panama Papers release focused attention on the fact that a number of US states permit the creation of companies and trusts where the identities of the beneficial owners are unknown, and that foreigners have been using them to bring possibly tainted money into the US.

The White House also said it would press Congress to pass legislation that would reciprocate the US requirement that banks in foreign countries provide the US Treasury information on any American-owned accounts.

That would then require US banks to provide information to foreign countries on their nationals with US accounts.