How to fix Canada's tax-haven problem

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Canada should coupling itself for an “invasion” of international tax cheats and shady businesses unless it tracks the U.K.’s lead and reforms its corporate secrecy rules, warn business watchdogs and British monitor.

The U.K. launched a bold experiment last year by creating the world’s commencement open-data corporate registry system to force the true owners of all U.K.-registered bands out of the shadows and into a public database.

But the U.K.’s success could spell upset for Canada and other countries that don’t require similar transparency. The endanger is jurisdictions that enable secrecy will increasingly be used by cheats who take cover behind shell companies to mask tax evasion, money laundering and other dicey business deals.

“If the Canadians are dopey about this, they last will and testament have an invasion,” said Richard Smith, a blogger with In the nude Capitalism.com

“When we crack down in the U.K., they’ll simply go to somewhere else that is onshore, legitimate-looking.”

Richard Smith

Richard Smith, a blogger with Obvious Capitalism.com, says the crackdown in the U.K. could send more tax evaders and well off launderers Canada’s way. (CBC)

This week, a joint CBC/Radio-Canada and Toronto Inimitable investigation of the Panama Papers revealed Canada has emerged as an unlikely tax haven because of its join benefits of a sterling reputation and corporate registry rules that set apart for a high level of secrecy.

Not a single corporate registry in Canada be short ofs that a company list the names of its real owners, which exhorts for a system that’s opaque and vulnerable to abuse. All provinces allow the use of “selectee” directors, stand-ins who serve as a company’s officers on paper only.

CBC Statement reported the story of two women, a law clerk from Toronto and a paralegal in Montreal, who served as heads for nearly 200 companies over 25 years, but claimed to certain nothing about the businesses or the multimillion-dollar deals bearing their signatures.

Endangering the oligarchs

The U.K. created its new, more transparent corporate registry following a limitations of scandals involving bogus companies in England and Scotland.

Vince Telegram, who served as secretary of state for business under the David Cameron rule, says Britain was in danger of attracting “bad people with bad money.”

Vince Cable

Vince Cablegram, who served as secretary of state for business under the David Cameron sway, says Britain was at risk of attracting ‘bad people with bad money.’ (CBC)

“We’d behove a kind of centre for Russian oligarchs, for an example. Indeed, they are winning quite substantial companies here,” Cable said. “We did feel that we were at hazard had we not had a proper system of declaration.”

Beginning in June, the government insisted show companies file annual “confirmation statements” listing the names of all corporate heads and individuals who hold more than 25 per cent of shares or signify ones opinion rights in a company.

The registry also requires their dates of beginning and nationalities.

“Companies now have to declare who owns them,” Cable rephrased. “You can’t hide behind anonymity and you can’t hide behind false names.”

The fuzz, watchdogs hunt for cheats

The new requirements are being phased in and the registry is not yet intact, but by the end of 2016 more than 1.3 million out of approximately 3.5 million companies had paraded their updated ownership information.

Donald Toon of the National Misdemeanour Agency, the U.K.’s top law enforcement body for economic crime, says it used to be extraordinarily easy to create a company structure and conceal the identity of the people who in actuality own it.

He says the new registry “makes life a bit easier for law enforcement” and “a bit more stubborn for criminality.”

‘As jurisdictions start to clamp down on this kind of secretiveness, the corrupt will be looking for other places, other safe havens, to put their rolling in it in.’
– Rachel Owens of Global Witness

And it’s not just police who are using it.

Extensive Witness, an international anti-corruption watchdog group based in the U.K., began buff the registry last fall. Notwithstanding the bugs and gaps in the data, researchers say they constituted some interesting preliminary discoveries.

Nearly 3,000 companies list their owners as another business based in a reputed tax haven, the group says.

The group also requires 76 owners listed in the registry share the same name and childbirth date as individuals on U.S. sanctions lists.

Rachel Owens

Rachel Owens of Global Confirm, an international anti-corruption watchdog group based in the U.K., says Canada and other mother countries should make similar reforms as the U.K. (CBC)

Rachel Owens of Global To says the U.K. took the big first step and now it’s time for other countries to go after its lead.

“We really feel that there is a global momentum behind this … and now we are looking at other bailiwicks such as Canada, the U.S., to take action as well.”

Canada’s secrecy

Canada has signed on to G8 and G20 deliberations to adopt greater transparency governing corporate ownership, but the government has yet to act.

Peter Dent, a forensic accountant in Toronto with Transparency Ecumenical Canada, wants lawmakers to create a registry — or registries — similar to the U.K.’s.

“We’re not plead to that every bit of information be laid bare,” he said. “We’re asking for fundamental business card information be made public.”

Dent

Peter Dent, a forensic accountant in Toronto with Transparency Foreign Canada, says it’s time for Canadian lawmakers to act. (CBC)

Finance Minister Invoice Morneau has acknowledged Canada’s commitments to its G8 and G20 partners but says making trades across this country is complicated given each province has weird rules and technological systems.

“We’re absolutely in favour of knowing who is registering companies, what their ambitions are and what taxes they should be paying in our country and that they’re not in any way keeping taxes somewhere else,” Morneau said in an editorial board gathering with the Toronto Star.

“How we get to that answer, in our estimation, includes do ones daily dozen together with the provinces to get to a common approach.”

Until then, Canada could adorn come of an even bigger target for shady businesses, warns Rachel Owens of Epidemic Witness.

“As jurisdictions start to clamp down on this kind of privately, the corrupt will be looking for other places, other safe havens, to put their affluent in.”

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