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19th Aug 2018

EU states set to oppose tax transparency bid

  • Protests in Iceland following the Panama leaks ended with the prime minister's resignation. (Photo: Art Bicnick)

EU states are moving to oppose an EU commission tax transparency plan despite public backlash against wealthy people hiding their money in secret offshore accounts.

Diplomats on Tuesday (20 December) plan to drop proposals to grant public access to registers that reveal the true owners of businesses and trusts.

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The registers are part of a larger transparency drive to shed light on tax dodging schemes that cost national coffers in the EU an estimated €70 billion a year.

But a compromise text from the Slovak EU presidency now restricts access to such registers to people who can demonstrate a "legitimate interest", or those who work with the police.

The "legitimate interest" criterion is likely to make it more difficult for journalists, civil society, and the general public to access the information.

"No-one seems to agree on what legitimate interest means," the Financial Transparency Coalition, an NGO, wrote in a blog ahead of the meeting.

Further loopholes

The latest amendment is part of the EU commission's reform of the anti-money laundering directive. The directive was adopted in 2015 but revised in the wake of the Panama Papers leak earlier this year to make registers fully public.

The Panama cache of 11.5 million records had revealed how some 140 politicians and public officials from around the world, with the help of major banks, hid assets by setting up front companies.

But Bloomberg BNA news website earlier this month reported that EU states are now using data protection rules to quash setting up the public registers.

EU states can still make the registers public if they so choose but must "respect the protection of fundamental rights of individuals in particular the right to privacy and protection of personal data", notes the Slovak paper.

Not every member state supports the plan.

Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the UK have already decided to make their registers public.

Another issue is that the EU commission wanted to make sure that anyone who had at least a 10 percent stake must be revealed, but EU states are pushing to increase the threshold to 25 percent.

Despite the EU commission efforts, tax transparency campaigners say it contains loopholes.

Family trusts, for example, can still be used to hide money because the commission makes a distinction between commercial and non-commercial trusts.

Analysis

Iceland's not-so-quiet revolution

In the space of three years, Iceland's main parties have seen their vote decimated, and new parties may well take almost half the electorate in Saturday's election.

Panama Papers: Iceland PM half-resigns

Iceland PM to step aside, but only for "an unspecified amount of time”, as ruling coalition fights for survival following Panama Papers leak on offshore funds.

MEPs demand stronger rules against tax evasion

MEPs in the civil liberties and economic committees voted in favour of toughening up EU wide rules on tax evasion, as they gear up for institutional talks in March on the EU's anti-money laundering directive.

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