PANAMA CITY: Getting rid of tax havens depends on the United States and Europe, but is unlikely to happen anytime soon, journalists behind the publication of the Panama Papers said Friday.
“The biggest tax haven in the world today is probably in the United States,” Jake Bernstein, a US investigative reporter with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), told a conference in Panama hosted by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.
“The biggest offshore providers have traditionally been American and European” and the banks they use “are often American or European,” he said.
“Much of this corruption could be stamped out if the United States and Europe decided to act.”
Frederik Obermaier, a German journalist for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily who received the Panama Papers leak and passed it on to the ICIJ, said the only real prospect for shutting down tax havens was if the public demanded governments do so.
“I am currently rather pessimistic that it will be possible very soon because real change in the offshore world is only possible if the big players go for it as well. The big players are the UK and the US,” he told reporters.
“And both countries now have governments that I fear are not in favor of more transparency.”
Obermaier noted that the Panama Papers revelations were based on a leak from an anonymous source who handed over digital files from a Panama law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which showed how it had set up offshore structures to allow the world’s wealthy to stash assets away from scrutiny.
But he said there were many tax havens around the world–and “some of them are within the borders of the US and some of them are UK overseas territories.”
Obermaier added that he hoped Panama Papers-style information will one day peel the secrecy back from structures set up in the US states of Delaware and Nevada, and in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
“I have to admit I really would like to see Delaware leaks and Nevada leaks and BVI leaks. So hopefully there are whistleblowers out there that may turn something like that over in the future to authorities or–and that’s a personal wish–to journalists,” he said.
“If societies really want change, they need the US and the UK joining this fight for more transparency,” he said.