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Role of bankers and lawyers laid bare to MEPs in Committee hearing

The roles of bankers, lawyers and accountants in secret offshore tax avoidance schemes were examined by MEPs from the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion (PANA) on Monday.

These enablers and promoters of tax avoidance were discovered to have played a crucial role in the Panama Papers scandal almost a year ago. The PANA Committee hearing learned of the situation in Switzerland, and what roles the likes of Société Générale and BNP Paribas played in France.

Also present at yesterday’s hearing were representatives from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which had first exposed the scandal in April 2016.

GUE/NGL’s Patrick Le Hyaric praised the work of all those who helped to leak this information to the public but said much more is needed:

“If it hadn’t been for the Panama Papers leaks and the work done by the press and the judicial system, would banks have made any changes? Probably not. This underlines the weaknesses in the internal scrutiny systems of the banks: they started acting very late and absolutely refused to take any responsibility for the wrongdoings they have organised or facilitated before.”

Referencing the representative from Société Générale, the French MEP demanded to know why banks in Luxembourg – often with fewer employees – generate excessive profits:

“How can an employee from Société Générale in Luxembourg generate 39 times more in profits than the average for Société Générale's employees?”

“In response, Société Générale and BNP continued with their line of defence by stating that they have changed their behaviour since 2009-2010. But that's too late – they are taking no responsibility for what has been done before and the legislative cat-and-mouse game to tackle tax evasion continues,” said Le Hyaric.

No representatives from Swiss banks appeared before the hearing and this left PANA Committee member Miguel Urbán in no doubt as to where the problem lies:

“Swiss law firms have been proven to have played a central part in the current Swiss tax evasion schemes.”

“Due to their lack of supervision, and the fact that they do not comply with FATF (the Financial Action Task Force [on Money Laundering]) rules on due diligence, they are the perfect facilitator for big fortunes trying to hide from tax authorities.

“It has been chilling just listening to the President of the so-called self-regulatory body of Swiss bar and notary associations who said everything is perfectly fine – even though all indications point to the fact that they are the facilitators of millions of euros worth of tax fraud against European citizens,” Urbán said.