OTTAWA — Canada is among 40 countries pledging a worldwide crackdown on money laundering and illegal corporate tax schemes during an anti-corruption summit in London.
But there are lingering concerns that proposed rules agreed to Thursday — including requiring governments to set up public registries of company ownership — may be slow in coming and not go far enough.
The one-day gathering of diplomats and politicians — among them, Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale — ended with a general pledge to “uncover corruption wherever it exists and to pursue and punish those who perpetrate, facilitate or are complicit in it.”
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So far, however, there are few signatories to back up the goals outlined in the communiqué.
In fact, just six countries agreed to create public registries of company ownership and locations — a move that is hoped will expose those hiding behind shell companies, not only to hide profits but also to make it more difficult for governments and tax authorities to know who has purchased properties, or been awarded contracts, and in what countries.
Canada is not yet on the short list of supporters for public registries.
The only countries to sign up were the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Kenya and Nigeria — although Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Georgia, Indonesia and Jordan have committed to taking initial steps in that direction.
Others have committed to establishing such registries farther down the road, something Canada has also agreed to do.
“Transparency is important, especially when you’re trying to expose a scourge like corruption,” Goodale said in a telephone interview following Thursday’s summit. “From Canada’s point of view, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed before we can make the (registries) commitment.”
For instance, “there are the inter-jurisdictional arrangements between the federal government, the provinces and, in some cases, municipalities — this is the Canadian constitutional complexity,” Goodale said.
The minister pointed to another issue of concern, the Privacy Act, and how “an initiative of this kind can be done properly” without affecting the rights of Canadians.
Still, the London summit managed to get broad support for initiatives to fight bribery across countries — including and commercial activities and sporting events.
“The kind of discussion that took place is a demonstration of growing concern around the world about the impacts of corruption — and the pervasiveness of corruption,” Goodale said.
Transparency is important, especially when you’re trying to expose a scourge like corruption.
There is also “the need for countries to begin to do more and more and more about it — and not just (with) companies, but private-sector players, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations.”
During Thursday’s meeting, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said his country already requires companies — domestic or foreign — to disclose who benefits financially from their property holdings.
At the same time, Cameron characterized international corruption as “the cancer at the heart of so many problems we need to tackle in our world.”
There were equally strong words from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said he was concerned by how corruption has become “pandemic” around the world.
“It is a contributor to terrorism in many different ways and the extremism that we see in the world today comes to no small degree from the utter exasperation that people have with the sense that the system is rigged.”
Although tax evasion and other forms of corruption, such as money laundering, have been a global concern for decades, it has taken the so-called Panama Papers to push these issues to the public forefront.
In the past few weeks, a consortium of international journalists has posted leaked documents with the names used in 200,000 offshore accounts registered by the law firm Mossack Fonseca, based in Panama.
Among the data were tax havens belonging to some well-known business figures and politicians from a wide range of countries.