Tax haven transparency

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Tax haven transparency Dan O'Huiginn 6/6/08 11:52 AM
Hi all,

I just received this fascinating suggestion, to scrape and search
information from the website of a tax haven. Anybody interested in
doing some work on it?

Dan

----

As you know, Panama is still one of the biggest and most important tax
havens. As well as its absurd tax regime, it's corporate disclosure
regime makes it very difficult to get information about Panamanian
companies. Basically you either have to submit a written request to
the Panamanian Company Registry, wait several weeks, pay some money,
and get some details back (all assuming you already know the name of
the company in which you're interested); or you can pay a company data
retrieval service a lot of money to do it for you.

But I noticed the other day that - unprecedented amongst major tax
havens - Panama has recently put the whole of its company registry
online.

https://www.registro-publico.gob.pa/scripts/nwwisapi.dll/conweb/prinpage

You can now retrieve the names of the current directors of every
Panamanian company. You can also retrieve all the company's filings
themselves (minutes of company meetings, details of shareholdings,
ownership, certificates of incorporation etc. etc.) as TIFF files.

Unfortunately, you can't interrogate the database by director's name -
the key thing if you want to find out if someone's dodging tax/doing
something dodgy etc. Such a facility would allow journalists and
activists to finger all sorts of tax-dodging politicians,
businesspeople etc. etc.

(Of course, even if you could search by director's name, it still
wouldn't combat the usual use of nominee directors, blind trusts etc.
to conceal the ownership of a company. But it would catch a fair few
people who hadn't been so careful)

So my thought was: how difficult would it be to make a program that
interrogated the Panamanian database and built its own index of
individuals linked to Panamanian companies? If this was then made
publicly available online, it would, I think, be quite a powerful tool
at breaking open the secrecy of one of the most important tax havens,
and catching loads of tax dodgers.

Do you think this might be possible? And would you or someone else be
interested in helping me try to do it?

What do you think?

***

ps. As just one example of the kind of thing you could do with a
decent search engine on the Panamanian company registry: you could
find this company - Mifadil Invest S.A. - controlled by notorious
Syrian arms trafficker Monzer al Kassar.

[go to the link above, click on Mercantil --> Sociedades Anonimas -->
Alfabeticamente --> type in 'Mifadil']

With the current search options you couldn't find this al Kassar
company unless (a) you made a lucky guess (prior to his arrest last
year al Kassar lived at the Palacio Mifadil in Marbella, Spain), or
(b) you employed an intern to trawl through thousands of pages of
printed Panamanian company lists (expensive) to find arms dealers'
companies. (Actually, Global Witness already found this company [1],
and I suspect this is what they did).

Once you've found it, though, you can access the scanned TIFF images
of the entire fiche and, going through them, you find a whole series
of Mifadil company directors or attorneys, past and present, who are
either (i) known to be dodgy but previously unconnected to al Kassar,
or (ii) respectable members of the European business community
previously not known to be connected to international arms
trafficking.

For instance: the company's current treasurer is Hans-Ulrich Ming, a
Swiss lawyer who is president of a major Swiss insurance/financial
services firm, Pax Anlage [2] (back in the 1990s Ming was also the
lawyer to the Swiss subsidiary of the infamous BCCI)

Previous directors include Enrico Ravano, president of Contship, the
Italian company that controls the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro. A Feb
2008 report for the Italian parliament accused Ravano of complicity in
cocaine smuggling by the Calabrian mafia through Gioia Tauro - the
report cited Italian estimates that 80% of all Europe's cocaine is
smuggled through Gioia Tauro. Ravano's connection to al Kassar could
help to stand up accusations (which al Kassar has always denied) that
al Kassar was involved in drug trafficking as well as weapons
trafficking; and helps to undermine Ravano's recent denials that he's
had anything to do with any trafficking of any sort.

Another director in the 1980s was a Marbella-based lawyer accused in
the Marbella press of also being a Calabrian mafioso. The list goes on
of both the great and the good, and the ugly, who've been connected
with Mifadil.

And of course with a decent search engine you could search for other
al Kassar companies. Or find out which cabinet ministers are running
Panama tax-dodging trusts. etc. etc. etc.

[1] www.villagevoice.com/news/0730,thompson,77325,6.html/5

[2] http://www.pax.ch/01-unternehmen/uan-index.htm
Re: [get.theinfo] Tax haven transparency Aaron Swartz 6/6/08 1:09 PM
I'm definitely interested. Who sent you that email about it?

> --
[sent from my phone; excuse typos]