Andres Knobel ■ We ran a beneficial ownership webinar for over 260 officials from Latin America

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a web camera on a laptop monitor

On 26 August, together with the Inter-American Center of Tax Administrations (CIAT), we hosted a webinar in Spanish for Latin American authorities involved in beneficial ownership transparency. The Spanish webinar was based on the first and second set of presentations on beneficial ownership verification held in English by the multi-stakeholder group to promote beneficial ownership verification.

Participation in the webinar included the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (GAFILAT), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). From civil society organisations, participation included many members of the Financial Transparency Coalition including Fundacion SES, Latindadd, Global Financial Integrity and the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU).

The 262 officials who attended the virtual webinar joined in from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Some officials from Spain also attended.

When looking at the type of authorities represented in the webinar, participation included 125 officials from tax administrations, 73 from financial intelligence units, 25 from bank and financial regulators, 13 from commercial registries and 26 from other authorities (eg strategic planning, secretary of the Presidency, etc).

Presentations included a summary of past events and webinars related to beneficial ownership (including the Buenos Aires event that has been promoting public beneficial ownership since 2015); loopholes in the legal framework that may prevent beneficial ownership verification; cases of verification and exchange of confidential information performed by authorities, particularly in Uruguay, Denmark and Slovakia as well as by European financial intelligence units; and verification strategies implemented by journalists, academia and private companies.

The webinar was also part of a strategic goal of bringing together authorities from tax administrations and the financial intelligence unit given how relevant beneficial ownership transparency is for both fields. Unfortunately, authorities from these two fields often work in silos and miss out on opportunities to cooperate and exchange information with each other, despite the obvious synergies between tax and anti-money laundering.

Cooperation among these authorities is also relevant for asset ownership information as addressed by the Global Asset Register and by automatic exchange of bank account information. The OECD’s automatic exchange framework (the Common Reporting Standard and the treaties and conventions that underpin it) prevent tax authorities from sharing bank account information for non-tax purposes (such as anti-money laundering and the fight against corruption). This (counter-productive) secrecy also affects the publication of statistics, as faced (and partially misunderstood) by Germany. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and Latin America is leading the way with the Punta del Este Declaration which calls precisely on more cooperation between tax and anti-money laundering authorities, including in relation to exchange of information. (In relation to this, the Financial Secrecy Index “rewards” countries that signed the Punta del Este Declaration under indicator 18 on automatic exchange of information).

We hope this will be the start of more cooperation between tax and anti-money laundering authorities as well as an increase and improvement in beneficial ownership transparency in the region.

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