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Panama revelations

German government demands consequences

Transparency and reporting obligations are of paramount importance in efforts to address the problem, stressed the Chancellor. The Federal Finance Minister aims to use the publication of the Panama Papers to clamp down on tax evasion.

The name of the law firm Mossack Fonseca seen on a monitor through a magnifying glass

An anonymous informer passed documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca to the Süddeutsche Zeitung

Photo: picture alliance / dpa

Every opportunity will be used to ascertain whether or not existing penalties are adequate, said Chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference with the heads of the five leading international economic and financial organisations. They made use of their annual meeting to discuss this topical issue.

"The publication of the documents raises pressure to eliminate abuse," declared Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Heiko Maas, Federal Minister of Justice, also sees a need to take action. He intends to respond to these latest revelations with a transparency register for letterbox companies. The companies are to be required to disclose the names of their owners. "There must be an end to the secrecy," demanded Heiko Maas.

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, has demanded action to combat tax fraud, ban letterbox or shell companies, and address the problem of money laundering. On Twitter he wrote, "It is a question of justice and security."

In recent years the German government has already achieved a great deal. In response to an initiative of the Federal Finance Minister, the Berlin Tax Conference was held in October 2014. In Berlin, 51 states signed a multilateral agreement on the automatic exchange of tax information. Since then, another 45 states have signed the agreement or expressed their intention of doing so. The provisions are to come into effect on 1 January 2017.

International consultation and coordination

Another move is the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, which addresses both the problem of harmful competition between the tax regimes of different countries and the aggressive policies of companies with international operations to shift profits to low or no tax environments. A total of 62 states have participated in the BEPS project. All OECD and G20 states are involved.

With its fourth directive on money laundering and its new regulation on transfers of funds, the European Union is stepping up efforts to combat money laundering.

The so-called Panama Papers are confidential documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The documents are said to provide evidence that the company has helped a large number of clients evade tax, launder money and contravene UN sanctions. An anonymous source passed the documents held by Mossack Fonseca to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The files comprise 2.6 terabytes of data. The first information was published on 3 April. The results of the research affect almost every country in the world.