'Rich individuals will do anything to not pay taxes': How leaders, corporations across the world reacted to Paradise Papers leak

The revelations of the Paradise Papers, a huge leak of financial documents and an investigation into offshore and banking assets, has caused ripples throughout the world.

The material was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with 100 other media organisations including The Guardian, BBC and The New York Times.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Politicians, celebrities and corporations from all across the world have been linked with the revelation. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, US president Donald Trump's cabinet members, advisers and donors, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief fundraiser Stephen Bronfman, Union minister Jayant Sinha, actor Amitabh Bachchan, defaulter businessman Vijay Mallya, corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, actor Sanjay Dutt's wife Dilnashin, Rajya Sabha MP RK Sinha, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, Twitter, Facebook, Nike, and Apple are just some of the names linked with Paradise Papers.

Needless to say, such a massive leak has sparked countless reactions.

India

In India, the multi-agency group (MAG) set up in April last year to probe the Panama Papers leak will also investigate and take "swift action" on the Paradise Papers, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said.

It said the government has directed that investigation in cases of Paradise Papers will be monitored by a re-constituted MAG, headed by the Chairman CBDT and having representatives from the CBDT, the Enforcement Directorate, the Reserve Bank of India and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

Jayant Sinha, in a series of tweets, said the transactions were legal and bonafide.


The main opposition party Congress took the opportunity to accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "betraying" the people with "zero action" against black money stashed abroad and demanded the resignation of Union minister Jayant Sinha and BJP MP RK Sinha.

RK Sinha refused to speak because he was on "maun vrat" (silence of vow) for a week for religious reasons. He wrote on a piece of paper that he had taken a pledge not to speak for a week for 'Bhagwat Yagna'.

On the other hand, asked about Sachin Pilot and son of former minister Vayalar Ravi figuring up in the Paradise Papers related to the Rajasthan ambulance scam, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: "The CBI and ED probe has already been initiated against Sachin Pilot. Will the government order probe against all those in the list?"

"The Congress is open for all sorts of probes... but will Modi choose Compromised Bureau of Investigation or Enemy Directorate probes over a Supreme Court investigation," the Congress added.

Amitabh Bachchan has also spoken at length about this issue. "At this age and time of my life, I seek peace and freedom from prominence... To be left to lead the last few years of my life with and within myself... I do not seek epithets, I abhor them... I do not seek headlines, I do not deserve them... I do not seek acknowledgement, I am not qualified for it," he said in a blog post.


Across the world

The European Union on Monday denounced the "shocking" revelations and the EU finance ministers meeting for regular talks in Brussels will discuss tax avoidance on Tuesday.

"This new scandal shows once again that some companies and rich individuals are ready to do anything to not pay tax," said European Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. "In light of these shocking revelations, I call on member states to rapidly adopt a European tax haven blacklist, as well as other dissuasive measures," he said.

EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager, who has cracked down on EU countries making illegal tax breaks to Apple and Amazon, lauded the journalists who made the latest revelations.

Apple Inc responded to the allegations against it and said that none of its operations were moved from Ireland and that changes made to its corporate structure in 2015 were specially designed to preserve tax payments to the United States, and not to reduce taxes anywhere else.

On Queen Elizabeth's links to the Paradise Papers and whether it is appropriate for the British head of state to invest in offshore tax havens, a spokeswoman for the Duchy of Lancaster said: "All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate."

"We operate a number of investments and a few of these are with overseas funds." She added: "the Queen voluntarily pays tax on any income she receives from the Duchy."

Russian politicians on Monday downplayed leaks in the Paradise Papers concerning Russian officials and state companies, insisting the deals were legal and not politically motivated.

The head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian senate, Konstantin Kosachev, charged that the leaks were "stirring emotions and muddled wording."

"When it is boiled down, what is described here is standard and legal commercial activity," Kosachev insisted.

He added that "through stirring up emotions and murky wording" the deals are "presented as practically a plot against the foundations of Western democracy."

US-based think-tank Global Financial Integrity (GFI) said MNCs should be required to publicly report their number of employees, facilities and their revenue on a country-by-country basis to help check tax abuses.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has defended personal business links to Russia. "I think the media has made a lot more out of it than it deserves," Ross told BBC on the sidelines of a business conference in London. He insisted that "there is no impropriety".

Canada's tax agency on Monday began pouring over papers leaked. "The CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) is reviewing links to Canadian entities and will take appropriate action in regards to the Paradise Papers," said John Power, spokesman for Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier.

In a statement, the CRA said it has been actively pursuing tax evasion and avoidance, saying these are "multi-billion issues."

In a statement, Bronfman denied the allegations, saying he "has never funded nor used offshore trusts." These assurances, however, failed to quell opposition attacks on the government.

"Justin Trudeau's priority was really tax fairness," said Conservative finance critic Pierre Polievre. "It's very curious that he's done nothing to go after the mega millionaires who stuff their money in foreign tax havens in order to avoid Canadian tax."

Two Brazilian cabinet ministers whose names appear in the Paradise Papers said Monday that there was nothing illegal in keeping funds in an offshore account. Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles and Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi appear in the data leaked.

The Guardian also reported that the Australian Tax Office has said it will investigate non-compliance by Australian taxpayers. In Germany, there were calls for registers of trust and company owners. "The European parliament should push for greater investigative competences such as a right to summon witnesses under oath as in the US-Senate and establish a permanent subcommittee on corporate taxation," the report quoted Fabi De Masi, a German MP and former vice-president of an EU committee probing the Panama Papers, as saying.

With inputs from agencies


Published Date: Nov 07, 2017 01:26 pm | Updated Date: Nov 07, 2017 06:13 pm



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