One year after millions of documents were leaked from a Panama-based law firm exposing wealthy businessmen, politicians, and heads of states use of tax havens, many countries have done little to crackdown on the tax evading practice, activists said Monday marking the anniversary of the release of the Panama Papers.
"One year on from the Panama Papers scandal and our political leaders are still not standing up to tax havens,” Esmé Berkhout, Tax Justice Policy Advisor for Oxfam, said in a statement posted on the group’s website. “Tax dodgers, and the tax havens supporting them, continue to cheat poor countries out of $170 billion in taxes every year. This money could fund health services that could save the lives of almost 150 million children."
The set of over 11.5 million secret files from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca exposed high-level politicians in Latin America and the Middle East for hiding millions of dollars in tax havens.
Berkhout added that some governments have started to act against people keeping their money in tax havens to avoid taxes. Ecuador, for instance, was one of the first countries to quickly begin cracking down on the practice when carried out by public officials.
As a response to the Panama Papers, Ecuador's government proposed a referendum this year that asked voters: “Do you agree that, for those holding a popularly elected office or for public servants, there should be a prohibition on holding assets or capital, of any nature, in tax havens?”
The vote took place with the first round of the presidential elections in late February and people voted to bar people hiding money abroad from being in public office.
With the presidential victory Sunday of left-wing candidate Lenin Moreno against right-wing opponent Guillermo Lasso, a former banker who was actually exposed in the Panama Papers as having millions of dollars abroad, the fight against tax havens is expected to continue in Ecuador.
However, more needs to be done in a form of a global action against those who use tax havens, the Oxfam tax expert added.
“All countries - including tax havens - must agree to establish centralized public registers of the beneficial owners of companies, foundations and trusts so that governments know who really owns and benefits from them, and can tax them accordingly,” said Berkhout, adding that governments ought to set up “objective blacklists of tax havens and take further action to prevent their use for tax avoidance and evasion."
In the United States, both the country's economic elite as well as government officials use shell companies to avoid paying taxes, Eric LeCompte, director of the development group Jubilee USA, said a press release Monday. He called on the U.S. Congress to take steps against the practice.
"The Panama Papers reveal a secret network of shell companies and firms that can hide when government officials steal from their people,” Eric LeCompte said in a statement marking the first year anniversary of the leak. "Congress can make it harder to use anonymous shell companies to launder money. Anonymous shell companies are part of why poor countries lose more money in tax evasion and corruption than they receive in aid.”
Among other politicians implicated in South America were Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Peruvian presidential front-runner Keiko Fujimori and Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Cunha.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman and the President of United Arab Emirates Khalifa bin Zayed were also implicated as documents showing them as having billions of dollars in tax havens.