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Pandora Papers Journalist: Belize Offshore Sector Harbors Secrets

Posted By: Marty

Pandora Papers Journalist: Belize Offshore Sector Harbors Secrets - 10/13/21 10:39 AM

The Pandora Papers were released over a week ago - and, in Belize, there have been a series of disavowals from an alphabet soup of stakeholders, from BIFSA to the IFSI, to the FIU, to GDG, and, of course, the good ole' GOB.

They all say, more or less that the revelations in those papers are things of the past, that Belize now follows a new, strict regime of compliance, or, as the GOB put it, "the industry in Belize is in fact transparent, heavily regulated and underpinned by various pieces of legislation approved by a sovereign, democratic parliament and easily accessible online by the world."

But, today we spoke via Zoom to Will Fitzgibbon - one of the journalists with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists - known as ICIJ which exposed and wrote about the role of Belize's offshore industry in the Pandora Papers. He said - from his investigation - Belize has come a long way towards tightening up its industry, but it still has some ways to go:

Will Fitzgibbon, ICIJ - Pandora Papers
"However, I think my experience in this field and based on speaking to experts currently make it quite clear that Belize like so many other tax havens, have a way to go and that no problem is solved overnight. Even the most recent evaluation by the regional FATAF body pointed to what Belize still has as a fairly low number of prosecutions and public prosecutions when it comes to financial crime."

Jules Vasquez
"What is your response to this approach that well, we're much clearer now and all those irregularities aren't our present reality?"

Will Fitzgibbon, ICIJ - Pandora Papers
"I think it's important to acknowledge that a lot of the material that we did see relating to Belize in the Pandora Papers was from some time ago, although I would note that some of the cases we wrote about including the United States investigation - which is ongoing by the way - into what the press here has called one of the largest tax frauds in history involving allegedly a Mr. Brockman - has involved the use of Belizean entities, for example, so I think there's no doubt in my mind that the role - past and present - of Belize continues to be of significant public interest."

"I think there's no doubt that Belize, like so many countries around the world, have either voluntarily or through obligation or external pressure improved in their fight against money laundering and financial crime, that's just a matter of public record."

A release from government says, quote, "If Belize had enacted any laws or promoted behaviour odious to the international community of nations or engaged in illegal practices harmful to foreign nations, Belize, as a tiny nation state would have long faced severe sanctions…" end quote.

We asked Fitzgibbon if anything in the papers he saw points to wealth being hidden by Belizean officials:

Jules Vasquez
"You know what Belizeans are interested in, is, are any of our officials secreting away the proceeds of corruption or graft into offshore accounts? Is there anything pointing to Belizean officials?"

Will Fitzgibbon, ICIJ - Pandora Papers
"Well, rest assured, if we had found and identified prominent Belizeans in these 12 million records, we would have written about them."

"I think what should be very sobering for all of your listeners is the realization that despite the size of these Pandora Papers and this is almost 12 million records over decades, that still only represents a very small slice of the entire offshore industry, so the fact that Belizean officials past and present don't appear in these leak records by no means indicates that Belizean officials have not or are not doing that currently."

And that brings us to the very reason the offshore sector exists. As a government release stresses Belize started offering financial services, quote, "as a means of diversifying their narrow economic bases and to attract US dollars in the face of vanishing economic aid and preferential markets for their agricultural commodities. In Belize, the industry represents a $50 million annual contribution to Belize's GDP…" End quote.

And while a lawyer for the government surely wrote those lines, Fitzgibbon says that offshore services are largely about secrecy:

Will Fitzgibbon, ICIJ - Pandora Papers
"There's a reason why in every major kleptocracy case from Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines to former leaders of Kenya and Nigeria and the Congo, there are reasons why offshore companies are nearly always involved in the acts of grand larceny and that's because the secrecy that tax havens and shell companies provide is of significant interest to anyone who wants to try and get away with something."

"The offshore system was often introduced by a small number of well connected and powerful lawyers often who persuaded lawmakers - who often didn't know any better - that the offshore industry was a wise idea and 5, 10, 15 years later, it turns out that the main beneficiaries of that legislation were the lawyers who promoted it in the first place. And I think many people who live in tax havens, including in Belize and a number of people I speak to there - wonder, well, really what's in it for us at the end of the day? Especially if the main impacts that we get are a reputational blow."

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