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Experts urge Panama to reform financial services industry

Panama canal expansion

Panama must urgently address the perceived opacity of its offshore business model and do more to stop dark money flowing through its financial system, a report by a government-appointed panel of experts says.

The five-person Committee of Experts, appointed by the government of Panama on April 29 to advise the government on reforms to help the country move on from the global scandal of Panama Papers, delivered its report to President Juan Carlos Varela on Friday last week. The report was made public on Sunday.

“The moment has come,” the report says. “The country can no longer postpone decision-making in this field.”

The committee’s report comes more than seven months after the publication of a series of news stories by ICIJ and more than 100 media partners. The Panama Papers, as they are now known, revealed the inner workings of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm founded in Panama that has helped create offshore and sometimes secretive structures used by world leaders, wealthy individuals, drug lords and financial fraudsters.

The Committee of Experts’ 23-page report includes more than 30 recommendations for Panama, including policy reforms, tweaks and additions to Panama’s diplomatic toolbox such as the creation of a permanent “advisory committee” to implement the report’s recommendations.

The report, which devotes significant sections to praise of Panama’s economic growth and its “attractive” place in the global economy, also recommends strengthening Panama’s financial and non-financial regulators.

Laws should be introduced to ensure that lawyers “maintain the highest ethical standards and professional performance,” the report also says.

“Given the repercussions it might have,” the report says of its recommendations, “it should be treated as a State issue and not lightly, as it has been done in the last 15 years.”

Two former committee members, Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Swiss anti-corruption lawyer, Mark Pieth, resigned from the committee in August. Stiglitz and Pieth were “at loggerheads” with the government, Stiglitz later wrote, saying that government officials had refused to guarantee the panel’s full independence and make the committee’s findings public.

Stiglitz and Pieth published their own report, produced independently of the committee, earlier this month. The experts addressed concerns about Panama’s reported role in the global offshore system and also other secrecy jurisdictions, including the United States, that play a significant role in facilitating tax evasion, money laundering and global inequality.

The full report can be read here.

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