France 'wrong' to designate Panama as a tax haven: President

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Panama City, Apr 9: France's decision to put Panama back on its list of tax havens in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations is "wrong," Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has said.

"I want to be very clear that the decision taken by France's government is a wrong and unnecessary step, even more so given the communication between both heads of state and the fact the world needs multilateral cooperation from all countries to tackle global problems," he told reporters yesterday.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varel

He added that his finance minister, Dulcidio de la Guardia, would travel to Paris on Tuesday to stress that Panama was a country that was "dignified, respectful and open to dialogue," as well as one committed to greater transparency.

France's finance minister, Michel Sapin, had said his government would put Panama back on its list of "uncooperative countries" in terms of sharing tax information.

France removed Panama from the list of Uncooperative States and Territories (ETNC) in 2012 after the two countries reached a bilateral accord on fighting tax evasion.

A new ETNC designation means France would view all transactions with Panama with suspicion, presuming tax fraud unless there is evidence to the contrary.

France also urged the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to follow suit. Panama's government immediately reacted by warning it could take retaliatory measures against France, including blocking French investment and withholding public tenders.

Asked about retaliating against France, Varela said he did not want to talk about that right now, that dialogue was the priority.

Varela this week has emphasised his readiness to improve information-sharing with France, and announced the creation of a commission to boost business transparency in his Central American country.

He and other officials also stress that they have implemented a series of reforms to curb the anonymity afforded companies incorporated in Panama.

Panama figured on a list of 30 tax havens last June, when the European Commission unveiled its plan to combat tax evasion by multinationals.

But in February, the inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed Panama from its "grey list" of countries found lacking in the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing.

Being put back on that list, or on France's list of ETNCs, would deal a blow to Panama's financial services sector, which accounts for seven percent of gross domestic product. 

AFP

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