First hearing Panama Papers Inquiry: ICIJ journalists

The European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into the Panama Papers (PANA) has held its first full hearing Tuesday 27 of September with some of the journalists that brought the Panama Papers to light. Go here for the full hearing video.

We were happy to host Gerard Ryle (Director at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – ICIJ) and Bastian Obermayer (Süddeutsche Zeitung) by video as well as

Discussions with the journalists focused on the research they had individually carried out on the Panama Papers data.

Update: After the hearing,  Frederik Obermaier (Süddeutsche Zeitung) has also provided a video contribution as well as, with Bastian Obermayer, a written reply to questions by PANA.

In their comments, they largely echoed our group’s key demands: much still needs to be done in order to make scandals like the Panama Papers impossible in the future. The EU’s framework against money-laundering still contains too many loopholes, as also amply demonstrated by in-depth analyses of the Tax Justice Network. Shell companies can too easily be created guaranteeing their owners complete anonymity from tax and other authorities. This is not just hiding tax evasion, but also serious crime.

 

 

It was also underlined that the much-touted public registers which the EU now plans on introducing for the real owners behind companies and some trusts may not end of being very effective, if the data is unreliable thanks to the use of so-called nominee directors. This basically means that banks – who are meant to research on the real owners of the companies they have as clients – can still comply with the law by inserting a largely fictive person in the register. They just have to claim that it was not possible to identify the real owners.

Switzerland was also targeted – along with several EU tax havens – for having very lax rules on lawyers who do not have to perform many checks on their clients as long as they do not obtain the power to act and sign on behalf of the firm. A loophole which helps the country to maintain a place to go for dirty money even after some rules have been tightened for the banking sector following international pressure.

And there was also unanimous consensus that it is a disgrace that the EU is still not doing more to protect whistleblowers. Antoine Deltour urged again the Parliament to keep up its pressure on the European Commission in this matter in his video message for our blog launch. He, together with Raphaël Halet and journalist Edouard Perrin, is currently awaiting their appeal trial in Luxembourg in December. They had been found guilty on several charges in June despite the judge’s recognition that their revelations had served the public interest. More than 100 Members of the European Parliament have expressed support for them in a letter initiated by vice-chair of the PANA committee Fabio De Masi (DIE LINKE.).

The growing pressure on investigative reporting is also an issue in Finland – formally heading the world in press freedom – where state authorities put pressure on journalists working with the Panama Papers material or, as Minna Knus put it:

The Finnish tax authorities are claiming the Panama papers and our editorial material, our research. As far as I know they have been the most aggressive of the tax authorities. (…) Yle, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, said ‘of course no we cannot hand over our research on the Panama papers’. So it is an ongoing case in the administrative court of Helsinki (…) and a threat to investigative journalism, the use of leaks and protection of sources.

It is clear that much work remains ahead of us. This week, on 12 October we will see whether the large political groups in the Parliament are ready to walk their talk to some extent and agree on an ambitious roadmap for the committee. We should not shy away from inviting those politically responsible for the offshore business to come and testify publicly. We also need to ensure full public access to documents for the Parliament. Those issues have been largely insufficient in the previous LuxLeaks committee.

The next hearing will be with international and supranational organisations and is set to take place on 13 October.