May 28, 2022

UK: Banks told to declare links to Panama Papers law firm by next week

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4223By Jill Treanor, Rowena Mason and Juliette Garside

Financial Conduct Authority sets financial firms deadline to check if they have links to Mossack Fonseca
Banks and financial firms have been told to hand over any information about their dealings with the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers to the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority by a week on Friday.

The City regulator had written to major financial firms on Monday, as the details of the accounts handled by the law firm Mossack Fonseca began to emerge, to ask what information banks held about any dealings with it and gave them 10 days to provide any details they may have.

Around 20 firms have received the correspondence from the FCA, which is responsible for regulating the City and has made tackling money laundering and financial crime one of its seven priorities for this year.

The 15 April deadline for information about dealings with Mossack Fonseca is contained in the letter, which also asks what action they are taking as a result of the release of the 11.5m files from the Panama-based law firm.

“Beyond 15 April we will require updates on any significant issues or relationships identified and a full response, detailing your findings, when your investigation is concluded,” the letter said, according to the Financial Times (£).

In other developments on Thursday:

The Geneva prosecutor said he had launched a criminal inquiry in connection with the Panama Papers.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, offered his first response to the revelations, saying they were an attempt to destablise Russia. He noted that his own name did not appear in the documents and said there was no proof of corruption in them.
The Financial Times reported that the British prime minister, David Cameron, had intervened personally to prevent offshore trusts from being dragged into an EU-wide crackdown on tax avoidance.
A university student asked Cameron about the “personal experience” he had about tax avoidance. Cameron said he had “made tax and transparency the number one issue” at international summits.
A former chief executive of HSBC Michael Geoghegan was revealed to have held his £8m London townhouse through an offshore company – and planned to avoid tax by effectively renting the property to himself.
On Tuesday, the FCA revealed it had written to the firms about the revelations, which have caused reverberations around the globe. “The FCA has written to a number of firms about this issue, including those on our systematic anti-money-laundering programme, and we are working closely with a number of other agencies who are also looking at this,” the FCA said.

“As part of our responsibility to ensure the integrity of the UK financial markets we require all authorised firms to have systems and controls in place to mitigate the risk that they might be used to commit financial crime,” the regulator had said.

Mossack Fonseca has always insisted that it acts “beyond reproach” and that, in 40 years, it has “never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing”.

Cameron tackled
Cameron was asked about the issue in an appearance at Exeter University. In a question and answer session, a student said: “I am very interested in what the collective EU states could do to combat tax avoidance – something you have personal experience of.”
The prime minister answered with a straight face, saying he had made tax and transparency “the number one issue” at international summits. He also said Britain was becoming the first country to have a register of beneficial owners of companies.

Cameron said tax, transparency and beneficial ownership would be on the agenda at a major tax conference in London in May and spoke of raising £12bn through a crackdown on tax avoidance.

Earlier in the day, the FT revealed that, in a 2013 letter to the then president of the European council Herman Van Rompuy, the prime minister said trusts should not automatically be subject to the same transparency requirements as companies.

In Geneva, the public prosecutor Olivier Jornot announced a criminal inquiry prompted by the Panama Papers disclosures. Jornot, who last year fined HSBC’s Swiss private bank 40m Swiss francs (£28m) for aggravated money laundering, said his office was “very attentive to these revelations”.

Jornot declined to give further details but the Tribune de Genève reported that for a number of days prosecutors in Geneva’s complex business affairs division had been on a watching brief. Magistrates are taking note of all the Geneva-based lawyers and other agents named in media coverage of the leak.

Swiss prosecutors are forbidden from using stolen information in criminal prosecutions. However, in the HSBC affairs Jornot argued that because the data stolen by the bank’s IT worker Hervé Falciani had been made public by the media, it could be used as a basis for pursuing the bank.

HSBC agreed to pay a record fine in order to settle the matter with the Swiss canton, which kept the findings of the investigation private, but the bank was given a final warning over “organisational deficiencies” which had allowed money laundering to take place.

Panama Papers reporting team: Juliette Garside, Luke Harding, Holly Watt, David Pegg, Helena Bengtsson, Simon Bowers, Owen Gibson and Nick Hopkins

Marquee on a building in Panama City lists the Mossack Fonseca law firm. Photograph: Arnulfo Franco/AP

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