Who Needs Beneficial Ownership Registers When We Have the ICIJ

 

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According to its website The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is a global network of more than 190 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories.

Founded in 1997 by the respected American journalist Chuck Lewis, ICIJ was launched as a project of theCenter for Public Integrity to extend the Center’s style of watchdog journalism, focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers: cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power. Backed by the Center and its computer-assisted reporting specialists, public records experts, fact-checkers and lawyers, ICIJ reporters and editors provide real-time resources and state-of-the-art tools and techniques to journalists around the world.

Not satisfied with the revelations and the fall-out occasioned by the release of their Panama Papers, this group of computer-assisted reporting specialists, public records experts, fact-checkers and lawyers, ICIJ reporters and editors has now released another batch of confidential information, which one supposes, could be called the Bahamas Briefs.

This leak provides the names of politicians and others linked to more than 175,000 Bahamian companies registered between 1990 and 2016, including former EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes and UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Alongside detailed reporting, ICIJ is making details from the Bahamas corporate registry available to the public. This creates, for the first time, a free, online and publicly-searchable database of offshore companies set up in the island nation that the ICIJ describes as the “Switzerland of the West.”

Clearly the ICIJ has developed a facility for acquiring confidential information with impunity; and without without any concern about the right to privacy. More alarming perhaps is the absence of condemnation for the methodology being used by these private sector operatives who seek to legitimatise their brand of journalism because of the nature of the misappropriated material.

It cannot be right that where there is now international consensus to ensure greater transparency and exchange of information among government agencies that a group like the ICIJ could be given carte-blanche to operate outside the four corners of the law.

After the Panama Papers, I had his to say:

Why the’Panama Papers’ Could Implode the OECD AEOI Agenda.

Posted on April 5, 2016 by FRANHENDY ATTORNEYS

So tonight’s PBBC Panarama‬ programme on the Panama Papers was a total yawn.Besides the tepid reporting and comical ‘stings’ on a couple of people whose names turned up in the leaked files there was not much else to recommend it.

However, the post BBC news clip about the leaks which featured the now, well-worn innuendo about independent small state international financial centres, the sound bite by the Director of the OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration who has some oversight in the work of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, and Automatic exchange of Information (the new standard) did shed some light on what, to my mind, is the bigger question..Why Now?.

The other by-product of the Panama Papers was to perhaps inadvertently provide further support for the US position that it will not exchange taxpayer information with countries that can’t ensure that the information they exchange won’t fall into the wrong hands.

Interesting then how these ‘leaks’ reinforce the post-AEOI competitive advantage of some countries which is not based on secrecy per se but on protecting their taxpayers from inadequate confidentiality safeguards in the state receiving the automatic transmissions of information.

In fact, aside form the buzzfeed about certain Presidents, UK property owners, and others with enough money to be particularly concerned about keeping it, the methodology of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists should cause some pause because it is precisely this kind of breech that could undermine the ‘confidentiality’ of information exchanges that has become a sticking point for the US.

Though a footnote , the fact is that the vast majority of the 11.5M files of confidential information were not part of the Mossack Fonseca ‘sting’. What then happens to the clients whose financial privacy was compromised seemingly without any legal action being contemplated, in the cause of ‘naming and shaming’ countries, companies and their clients.

In the name of exposing some clients, so-called ‘whistle-blowers and other objectors whose access to information is such that they are able to ply a brisk trade in confidential information; and the non-governmental beneficiaries of such exchanges threaten to implode the AEOI agenda.

While it is clearly important to remove the ‘cloak of secrecy’, for those minority of operators who are still wedded to the old dispensation; surely there there must be a place and a form of redress for those innocent clients of Mossack Fonseca and others whose private, legitimate offshore financial affairs have been laid bare.

Confidence in the new OECD-sponsored AEOI standard must be manifest not only by the participating countries but also the tax-payers. If the Panama Papers ‘sting’ becomes the norm it seems unlikely to support the noble, yet untested ideal of the automatic, multilateral sharing of taxpayer information without compromising their right to privacy; and their government’s duty to protect this fundamental right.

After the Bahamas Briefs, I rest my case.

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