Hidden in the treasure trove of data recently made available, regarding accounts at HSBC's Swiss private banking division, is a startling statistic: 211,000 Panama corporations had accounts at the bank. Panama's opaque bearer-share corporations appear to continue to be the vehicle of choice for those European tax cheats, corrupt PEPs, and assorted criminals who wish to hide their wealth in Switzerland.
One source stated that there were 300,000 financial transactions, between Panama and HSBC Switzerland, and that the total amount reportedly transferred was $3bn800m. If the names of the Panama corporations are publicly disclosed, a search will be on to identify the beneficial owners, which is a difficult task. Panamanian attorneys who form these shell companies routinely set up Powers of Attorney (Poder) to further conceal their clients' names. Often, law office staff front for the client, even at account opening.
Should the names of beneficial owners of these Panama companies be ultimately exposed, rest assured that EU law enforcement agencies will target, and charge any of the offenders who will not agree to governmental terms for settlement of tax liability. Corrupt PEPs are, unfortunately, another story, for many former government officials, heads of government-owned companies, field grade and general officers in the military, all wield serious power, not to mention first-hand information about corruption within present governments, making criminal indictments doubtful.
In any event, we welcome this new transparency; perhaps the fear of future exposure will deter at least some of those considering employing a Panamanian vehicle to commit financial crime. The bottom line, though, is that, so long at Panama allows bearer-share corporations, global criminal abuse of these companies will occur. Panama, please abolish this money laundering tool, lest your grey list designation morphs into areal blacklist designation.