The journalism organization promoting the Panamá Papers disclosures said it will release mountains of searchable information today at 2 p.m.
The organization is the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the leading source of Panamá Papers data in English.The teachable data base will be here:
The documents detail ties between 368,000 people and 300,000 offshore entities, the International Consortium said, according to wire service reports.
The impact in Costa Rica could be major. El Semanario, the Universidad de Costa Rica newspaper, made much of very little in its initial reports. The documents, stolen from the Cossack Fonseca & Co. law firm in Panamá, shows that lawyers there helped some wealthy people set up offshore firms, often used to hide assets and avoid taxes and sanctions.
Little of what has been disclosed so far is illegal, but Costa Rica does have a law that requires public employees to disclose assets each year. This is the Ley Contra la Corrupción y el Enriquecimiento Ilícito en la Función Pública, No. 8422. The Contraloría General de la República says that nearly 20,000 public employees have to file forms by May 20 showing their worth.
Some may show up as owners of offshore corporations, which would jeopardize their job if they had lied on previous annual reports.
However, Costa Ricans do not have to go to the Panamá firm to create an offshore corporation. They could do so online with U.S. states or even with the government registrar in the Cayman Islands.
The Cayman Islands Companies Registry reports that there are 92,000 firms registered there and an average of 9,200 new companies have been registered each year over the past 10 years. One advantage of registering a company there is secret ownership.
“The Registrar is able to release on enquiry only the name, type of company, the date of registration, the address of its registered office, and the status of the company, the government agency says on its Web site.
Companies registered there also pay no local taxes, including capital gains and payroll.
The anonymous source behind the leak of the Panamá Papers says “income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time,” and that governments need to do more to address the issue.
The source released an 1,800-word statement to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists explaining the motive for leaking the information to justify the action.
“You’ll see companies and their official owners. This is information that’s never been available,” said Marina Walker Guevara, International Consortium deputy director. “We think that information about who owns the company should be public and transparent.”
Some have suggested that the United States may have been behind the leak because the U.S. Internal Revenue Service usually creates a public relations splash around April 15 each year. That is the annual tax filing deadline of many U.S. citizens.
Even while he noted that there was little illegal disclosed so far by the Panamá Papers, U.S. President Barack Obama called for changes in the law to identify owners of offshore corporations. As far as the U.S. government is concerned many U.S. expats and property owners are holders of suspicious offshore entities. They have to make special tax reports each year.
The Costa Rican central government is seeking legislation to remove the shield of confidentiality of shareholders of corporations registered here.
Expats and Costa Ricans can hide their participating in a corporation here now by holding all the stock but naming someone else to fill a public position on the board of directors.
Offshore corporations are attractive to Costa Ricans and investors of many other nationalities because they would not pay taxes to their home country on income earned by a corporation in a place like the Cayman Islands. That is called tax avoidance, and this is legal.
U.S. citizens, on the other hand, are obligated to report to their government all their income, foreign and domestic. So U.S. citizens failing to report income generated by a Cayman Island corporation are engaged in illegal activity. That is called evasion.
Those in the financial world are quick to point out that the offshore entities are attractive because of high taxes in the home country.
U.S. corporations have billions of dollars stashed offshore in foreign subsidiaries for that reason.
Costa Ricans are free to bring money into the country from offshore corporations tax-free and avoid the top 30 percent income tax rate.
The U.S. corporate tax rate ranges from 15 to 39 percent. Individuals with high incomes can pay up to 39.6 percent on income such as dividends and bond interest.
Bernie Sanders, the Democratic candidate for U.S. president, wants to raise the top individual marginal tax rate to 60 percent. Until 1964 the top marginal tax rate for individuals in the United States was an incredible 91 percent.