Belize City, Wed. Oct. 6, 2021– The Belize International Financial Services Association (BIFSA) has made public its objections to claims made in reports issued by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) following their publication of the “Pandora Papers”. The papers, which became a topic of widespread discussion on Monday, consisted of nearly twelve million files “exposing the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires.” The undertaking specifically highlighted activities within the offshore banking sector, and once again cast the spotlight on Belize as a tax haven for affluent tax evaders.
The reports issued so far have pointed to services provided to unsavory US nationals by companies owned by a senior attorney and former attorney general of Belize, Glenn Godfrey, whose law firm is accused of assisting numerous American clients in hiding their assets while they were under criminal investigation. Godfrey was quick to refute the claims and stated that he would be seeking legal redress for the harm the ICIJ reports had done to his firm’s reputation.
The Financial Intelligence Unit of Belize (FIU) responded with their own press release on Tuesday, and instead stated that the papers, while not indicating any law-breaking activity by any firms in the country, “suggest extremely poor diligence and oversight in the conducting of business by corporate service providers.” As a result, the FIU pledged to liaise with the necessary authorities and vowed that “effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions” were to follow for all involved persons and corporate service providers, should those parties be found to be non-compliant with the standards established by the Financial Action Task Force.
On Wednesday, however, the BIFSA issued a statement that indicated that it viewed the contents of the Pandora Papers much less favorably than the FIU. The association stated in the release that it found the claims made in the Pandora Papers, and the implications of such publicized claims for Belize, as “regrettable”, and it went on to dismiss the validity of the claims by asserting that they were based on “decades-old information which is no longer relevant in today’s highly regulated business environment”. The release goes on to state that the reports portray Belize as an “anything goes” jurisdiction and it mentioned the scrutiny and pressures Belize has been under from global powers to become tax- transparent. The BIFSA also argues that Belize has remained committed to being transparent and compliant with international banking regulations:
“As an example, Belize met the deadline set by the OECD’S Forum on Harmful Tax Practices to remove ‘harmful’ tax features from its IBC Regime and was assessed as compliant in January 2019 and was later removed from the EU blacklist that same year. Corporate Service Providers in our industry, mainly lawyers and accountants and other service providers, are carefully vetted and approved a license by the Government before they can provide services to international clientele,” the BIFSA release stated.
BIFSA further noted that it serves the IFSI with the highest level of integrity and morality and does not evade the law or its regulations for any sort of short-term gain. At the conclusion of its statement, the BIFSA classified the allegations based on the “Pandora Papers” as erroneous and went on to “strongly condemn the misinformation and unfair and unsubstantiated allegations against the industry and its practitioners.”