Pandora Papers: Beneficial ownership transparency and asset disclosure law needed

While everyone agrees we need greater accountability, Malaysia must step up to this important commitment

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ZUNAR.MY

The Pandora Papers exposé has shed light on how the mega-rich are once again exploiting loopholes in the global financial system to avoid paying taxes and transferring money out of countries, and Malaysia is no exception.

Malaysia’s wealthy businessmen and politicians have once again been exposed, together with other world leaders, on their secret offshore connections, having established firms or holding directorships in companies in countries known to be tax havens.

The Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) is appalled at the secrecy behind such ventures and immediately demands a commitment to transparency in beneficial ownership to be implemented without delay.

We learned too late where the money had been channelled and the wheeling and dealing that followed. We learned the truth of the existing shell companies and the millions stashed away, only because of the excellent work of investigative journalists who trawled through over 12 million documents to tell us about the dark shadow economy and the schemes involved to avoid paying tax.

While having offshore entities is itself not illegal, the practice has been linked to tax evasion or tax avoidance for years, often to launder money and obscure the money trail. While preventable measures are there, the lack of political will is alarming.

We urge for the quick implementation of open company data, where there can be better vigilance of company structures, movement of money and the detection of shell companies to avoid illicit financial outflows from the country.

In a time where transparency and accountability are of utmost importance, we further urge for an asset declaration law to be given immediate priority. The current call for asset declarations is not legally binding and does not give the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission the power to go after those who have underdeclared, fraudulently declared or failed to declare their assets.

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Malaysiakini reported that the Pandora Papers had named, among others, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, Umno president Zahid Hamidi, Deputy Finance Minister Yamani Hafez Musa and Selayang MP William Leong, previously a PKR treasurer.

Each of these persons was or is a holder of office, important entities that we know are not immune to corruption or abuse of power.

So why was there a need for those offshore links, if not for nefarious ends?

The Pandora Papers have opened a Pandora’s box, and within it we see the ills of the global financial system. There is already a global push for beneficial ownership transparency of companies everywhere, especially in the political declaration of the recently concluded first-ever UN General Assembly special session against corruption back in June 2021. While everyone agrees we need greater accountability, Malaysia must step up to this important commitment.

A nation built on transparency can only do so if those who lead it practise transparency and accountability to lead by example. Otherwise, the nation will be built on a foundation of lies and deceit, with a face that promises good governance, but a hand that supports corruption. – C4

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