Saturday 21 July 2018

Revenue set to probe 'Panama Papers' as Bruton says evaders will be prosecuted

The former headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank on St Stephen’s
Green – the bank’s Austrian branch features in the documents
The former headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank on St Stephen’s Green – the bank’s Austrian branch features in the documents
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The taxman is expected to seek access to documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm, detailing schemes used by the rich and powerful to shield their wealth.

The Revenue Commissioners said there was "a serious tax risk" to the Exchequer from the use of offshore accounts.

The comments came after documents contained in the so-called Panama Papers revealed elaborate and complex schemes used by political and business figures around the world to reduce tax bills and conceal their wealth.

Documentation amidst the 11.5 million records leaked from the Mossack Fonseca law firm includes information related to around 360 companies with links to Ireland. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by any of these companies.

However, the Revenue appears set to follow the response of the UK's Revenue and Customs, which has formally requested access to the documents from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

A spokeswoman said that for confidentiality reasons the Revenue could not confirm what tax-related information it requests access to.

But she added: "In line with the proactive approach adopted over the years in tackling the use of offshore accounts and structures to evade tax, Revenue will avail of all sources of information that could assist it in this work."

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton pledged that anyone found to have evaded tax would be prosecuted.

He said the revelations had clearly raised concerns, but cautioned that as yet there was no evidence of wrongdoing in Ireland.

"Obviously, if there are offences of Irish law discovered in this, you can be absolutely sure they will be vigorously prosecuted. But at this point we don't know that," he said.

Pegasus Trust, a Dublin firm representing around a third of the Irish-linked companies named in the papers, declined to comment yesterday.

Another company registered at the same address as Pegasus in Drumcondra, Intertrade Projects Consultants Ltd, also featured in the papers.

It acted as a sales agent for customers, including Italian aerospace and defence conglomerate Finmeccanica, in deals relating to equipment for military aircraft, torpedoes and electronic warfare.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Pegasus, Intertrade or any of their clients.

Separately, the papers reveal that Mossack Fonseca repeatedly recommended Anglo Irish Bank's branch in Austria to clients.

The bank's Austrian branch is said to have appeared on a seven-bank list of recommended private banks.

Anglo bought the bank from Royal Bank of Canada in 1995 but sold it in 2008.

The papers reportedly showed that some customers were preoccupied with confidentiality and the issue of relaxed conditions when it came to opening accounts.

The Anglo branch was itself a customer of the law firm, which it used to set up offshore companies for the use of its customers.

The documents, which date back as far at the 1970s, were leaked last year to German newspaper 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' by an anonymous source.

The newspaper shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a part of the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington DC.

The consortium co-ordinated the investigation of the material by international news organisations.

Mossack Fonseca has denied that the records show any illegal practices.

One of its founders, Ramon Fonseca, said the firm was the victim of a crime as the records had been taken from a supposedly secure data centre.

He said it had been operating for almost 40 years, during which time it had created more than 240,000 companies and had never been "convicted or accused or any wrongdoing".

Irish Independent

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