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By David Haskel
April 8 — Panama is launching urgent talks to seek ways to improve its financial and banking image tarnished by the Panama Papers scandal.
President Juan Carlos Varela made the decision after meeting April 7 with members of the Committee for the Defense of International Financial Services (CANDSIF), the presidential office said in a statement. The talks will involve not just bankers but also industrial, trade, and legal gruops to explore ways to address the challenges facing Panama’s financial industry “without neglecting the interests of the country,” it said.
CANDSIF, which comprises private and public representatives, was set up in 2014 specifically to suggest how to improve Panama’s offshore banking and financial services industries.
Representatives from Panama’s Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Industry and Agriculture, the National Lawyers Association, the International Lawyers Association, the Banking Association, and the nation's Stock Exchange all fully backed Varela’s proposal, the statement said.
As part of crisis management efforts, Varela April 8 phoned his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, to assure him that Panama will cooperate fully with international efforts to combat financial crime, the government said in a separate statement. Additionally, Panama’s finance minister, Dulcidio De La Guardia, will fly to Paris in coming days for talks with his French counterpart, Michel Sapin, it said.
Sapin April 6 said he wants the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to put Panama back on its list of non-cooperative tax havens after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released a series of articles detailing information in documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca & Co..
Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said April 8 that members of the Joint International Tax Shelter Information and Collaboration (JITSIC) network plan to meet at OECD headquarters to “explore, identify specific tax compliance risks arising from the information revealed thus far and agree on any further collaborative action.” And OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria issued a statement earlier this week criticizing Panama’s “culture and practice of secrecy” and calling it “the last major holdout that continues to allow funds to be hidden offshore from tax and law enforcement authorities.”
Panama’s initial reaction was one of defiance, insisting that it was running a perfectly transparent financial and banking operation, calling the OECD criticism “unfair and discriminatory” and warning Paris that it might retaliate over its gray list plans.
Varela gradually toned down his rhetoric. While still fervently defending the nation in the aftermath of the scandal, Varela April 6 said he will establish an independent panel of national and international experts to initiate proposals to “reinforce the transparency of our financial and legal systems”.
He provided no details on the panel, and it was not immediately clear whether it will function separately from, or become part of, the CANDSIF talks.
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