Thursday, September 22, 2016
Thursday, September 22, 2016
FIVE months after the country’s financial services sector was dragged into the spotlight as a top tax haven in the infamous “Panama Papers”, international watchdogs yesterday unveiled a free online database created from 1.3 million leaked files from the Bahamas’ corporate registry.
The database by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) circumvents the local register’s costly retrieval fee and incomplete online registry by providing, for the first time, 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 instalment to the massive Offshore Leaks Database created by the ICIJ has labelled the country as the “Switzerland of the West”.
The reports detail the country’s longstanding struggle with international tax agencies, namely the United States’ Internal Revenue Service and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), since the 1930s.
For its part, Gerard Ryle, the director of ICIJ, said: “We see it as a service to the public to make this basic kind of information openly available. There is much evidence to suggest that where you have secrecy in the offshore world you have the potential for wrongdoing. So let’s eliminate the secrecy.”
Administered by the Registrar General’s Department, the Corporate Registry can be consulted in person or via its online registry. However, ICIJ argues that the information available online is often incomplete. The international watchdog also took issue with the $10 retrieval fee per document, pointing out that search fees were discouraged by the international association of company registries.
The ICIJ report read: “Bahamian authorities told ICIJ that the country honours its international obligations and cooperates with international authorities. The Bahamas ‘does not tolerate dirty money,’ authorities said, noting it ‘has in many areas been rated as ‘largely compliant’ with international standards.’
Authorities did not comment on specific cases and defended the Bahamian corporate registry.
“Fees for online registry searches covers the cost and upgrading of the online system,” said authorities, according to the ICIJ.
Regarding the sharing of tax information, authorities said, according to ICIJ: “The Bahamas negotiates in good faith with all appropriate partners of the Global Forum for Transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes, subject to…international confidentiality and data security standards.”
ICIJ maintains that the new data does not specify whether directors named in connection with a Bahamian firm “truly control the company or act as nominees, employees-for-hire who serve as the face of the company but have no involvement in its operations.”
Although ICIJ explicitly states on its website that there is no suggestion of law breaking or impropriety, its reporting noted that “police, detectives and fraud investigators use registries as starting points on the trail of wrongdoing.”
The ICIJ report read: “The data released today involves the basic building blocks of offshore companies: a company’s name, its date of creation, the physical and mailing address in the Bahamas and, in some cases, the company’s directors. At a basic level, this information is crucial to day-to-day commerce.”
The documents were leaked to the same media agency that received the massive ‘Panama Papers’, an exposé that rocked the industry back in April, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and its timeline spans from 1990 to early 2016.
In a statement released last night, Minister of Financial Services Hope Strachan said the country remains committed to the transparency of its corporate registry.
More: The Tribune.