From top: Historian Niamh Puirseil; director of the Iona Institute David Quinn; senior reporter with Today FM Juliette Gash; John Devitt, of Transparency International Ireland; and Irish Independent columnist Colette Browne
Last night, on Tonight with Vincent Browne, the panel spoke about the so-called Panama Papers – a leak of 11.5 million documents, involving nearly 215,000 companies and 14,153 clients, from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca in Panama.
The papers show how some world leaders, politicians and high-profile figures have been able to hide large stashes of money.
Yesterday, Colm Keena in the Irish Times, reported that former Fine Gael director of elections and strategist Frank Flannery featured in the papers, in relation to the purchase of a house in London, in the 1990s.
Mr Flannery has said no offshore company was involved in the sale.
Grab a tay.
John Devitt: “It should be pointed that out: Panama isn’t the only secrecy jurisdiction or financial centre that can be used to facilitate these corrupt and criminal transactions. Dublin has also been at the centre of some controversy in the past and the use of complex financial instruments such as hedge funds have come under some scrutiny recently. So the IFSC has served and is believed to have served as a vehicle through which dirty money has been laundered.”
Vincent Browne: “What’s the evidence for that?”
Devitt: “Well we know for example, most recently, that the family of Sani Abacha, a former Nigerian dictator, were…”
Vincent Browne: “Say that name again and say it very clearly because…”
Devitt: “Sani Abacha. He’s a former…”
Vincent Browne: “Ok..I thought it might be confused with a name of a senator here who’s certainly isn’t engaged in…”
Devitt: “The point is that he was, or his family, he’s now deceased but his family was subject to proceeds of crime action by the UK authorities and they sought the assistance of the Criminal Assets Bureau here to locate the Abacha or one of the members of the Abacha family so that they could retrieve money that was believed to have been laundered in Irish banks. There are also cases involving the use of Irish insurance companies, going back to 2006, if not earlier, that earned Ireland the tag as the ‘wild west of European finance’. There were re-insurance deals involving a company based in the IFSC that facilitated a $500million fraud. Much of this was going on without any scrutiny.”
Vincent Browne: “We’ve been assisting mega corporations to avoid tax on a massive level for years and years and it’s part of what we are. It’s our selling card.”
Devitt: “Ireland’s reputation as a lightly regulated economy was a calling card for the government for a number of years and still is to a large degree. While regulation might have been tightened up since the banking crisis, Ireland is still not considered to be one of the most stringently regulated financial centres in Europe. There are moves being made to tighten it up somewhat and we’ve made, we know that shelf companies have been outlawed since the introduction of the new Companies Act.”
Vincent Browne: “Colette, you’ve been reading about this.”
Colette Browne: “Yeah, I have and it’s very interesting. There’s 11 million documents – 2.5 terabytes of data, so it’s an absolutely huge file. And it’s been revealed that 58 relatives and friends of kinds, prime ministers and presidents all around the world who are involved in this – so stashing money in these offshore accounts. So, as per usual, it’s people in positions of authority recommending cuts for the little people while they solve their money away in these bank accounts in secrecy and pile up these massive wads of cash. Now Richard Bruton today came out and said that if there was any Irish people that were engaged in any illegality, I think his exact words: ‘you can be absolutely sure that tax evaders will be vigorously pursued’. And I was doing a story recently on white collar crime and what I found out was quite shocking. That the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement hasn’t had a forensic accountant employed for a year. So between March last year and March this year. In 2004 the Director of the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement said that the agency wouldn’t be credible unless it had more, it had one forensic accountant at the time. Last year, in its annual report, it was given permission to hire six additional forensic accountants so that it could go after large scale white collar crime in this country. Instead it has zero forensic accountants, so we’re talking about a country which experienced the biggest financial crash in the history of the world and we have our prime regulatory body, which is supposed to investigate white collar crime, which didn’t have a forensic accountant for the last year. Now Remy Farrell is a senior counsel, who prosecutes these types of crimes, and he was speaking about this in 2004, or 2014 rather and he said that Ireland at the time was like a tinpot dictatorship because it had only one forensic accountant in this body. For the last year, we’ve had no forensic accountant.”
Devitt: “It’s not just the ODCE, mind you, that is short of resources. The Criminal Assets Bureau, the GBFI, the Garda Bureau for Fraud Investigation are grossly under resourced and I’m not sure that’s by accident. I think there’s been a policy going back a number of years now to turn a blind eye to this kind of crime.”
Colette Browne: “But to have politicians come out and say that these people will be vigorously pursued and then to have the State’s main regulatory body, which is supposed to pursue these people, without having the technical expertise to go after them I mean, it’s actually a joke.”
Watch back in full here