By Werner Langen
The brutal murder of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on Monday, October 16 tragically illustrated the hard reality in which investigative journalists like her must strive to uncover shady deals involving money laundering and corruption. It shows that it takes courage, commitment and persistence to unravel these practices and reveal them to the wider public.
One hard lesson we – the members of the parliamentary committee of inquiry – have learned from the Panama Papers investigation is that criminals who are moving their billions across the globe will never back down and, sadly, some of them place more value on protecting their hidden wealth or their reputation than on human life.
It is almost as shocking to see that some countries would rather perpetuate their business with money launderers, tax evaders, corrupt politicians and criminals, than really clamp down on their practices. Some of these countries have all the legal arrangements in place required by international standards or European law, but somehow always find ways to avoid being helpful in international investigations. In some cases, there are even signals of corruption or other wrongdoing, which – under political pressure – are not followed up with police investigations or prosecution.
The recent Paradise Papers revelations made it crystal clear that the Panama Papers were only the tip of the iceberg. Despite all the efforts of recent years, there are always “solutions for sale” in tax and secrecy havens so that the beneficial owner of a letterbox company or trust can remain unknown and his/her wealth untraced and untaxed.
It is also sad to see that all of the secrecy and tax paradises in the Panama Papers were taken off the OECD’s list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions and that they are not even considered “high-risk” countries with regard to money laundering and terrorist financing. This is not because they now comply with international anti-money laundering and tax transparency standards, but because they promised they would implement these standards at some point. Well, they don’t.
You may be aware that we were waiting for the European Commission to propose two lists; one with tax havens and one with high-risk countries in view of money laundering. Commissioner Pierre Moscovici (Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs) presented the first EU list of tax havens last week. Parliament had asked Commissioner Vera Jourova (Justice) who is in charge of the anti-money laundering list, to compile a better list than the current one, which is merely a copy of the OECD’s Financial Action Task Force one. She presented a methodology for the listing process and we look forward for the first results. Moreover, after both lists are agreed, we hope to see consequences for the countries that are included.
At the same time, we cannot be complacent about our own member states. Our inquiry has revealed that our own house is far from being in order and we call on the commission to see to it that EU law, and especially the EU’s anti-money laundering directive (AMLD), on which parliament is a co-legislator, is not only transposed into national law but enforced as intended. We are looking forward to finalising the negotiations with the European Council on improvements to the AMLD and hope that parliament’s calls for more transparency about ultimate beneficial owners of companies and trusts, closing of existing loopholes and better enforcement will be honoured by the member states.
Dr Werner Langen is chairman of the European parliament’s committee of inquiry into money laundering, tax evasion and tax avoidance