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'There's Singapore, London, Zurich': Panama Papers 'Tip of the Iceberg'

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Following the explosive revelations of the Panama Papers, tax campaigners are pinning hopes on next month's London anti-corruption summit to work towards global reform, with transparency advocates telling Sputnik the recent leaks are just the "tip of the iceberg."

With a large number of governmental, banking and business figures under the spotlight for their financial practices as a result of the leaks, increased attention and significance is now being placed on next month's London summit to see if world leaders can come to an agreement and crack down on tax evasion and offshore financing irregularities.

"It [the Panama Papers] really creates quite a strong imperative for something to be done," Casey Kelso, Advocacy Director at Transparency International, told Sputnik.

"It could be that the UK summit holds the promise of finally making a major breakthrough; a rather simple solution to say that all countries should make it harder for the corrupt to hide corrupt assets that they're trying to make sure that no one knows they have."

While there has been much talk in recent years of governmental efforts to crack down on illegal or unethical financial dealings, the latest leaks revealed such practices were globally widespread, with Mr Kelso describing the information in the Panama Papers as the "tip of the iceberg."

He hopes that the revelations will lead others to come forward with more information about similar types of practices in other parts of the world.

"I hope that, as there are copycat crimes, there is copycat whistleblowing as well. I'd like to see what other records could be dredged up and divulged from London, for example.

"It's not just Panama, there's Singapore, London, Zurich that also have as many Mossack Fonseca [style] law firms as in Panama itself. So, to look at Panama is one thing, but there's a lot of other people and a lot of other information and data out there that will never be disclosed."

Attention Turns to UK

With the UK hosting the global summit of tax evasion and offshore financing issues, many believe Britain could prove to be a world leader in tackling financial corruption.

While Prime Minister David Cameron has been applauded for his tough rhetoric on corruption, many have criticized the PM's perceived lack of action on the issue.

Britain was only second to Hong Kong in a list of international jurisdictions where banks, law firms and other stakeholders associated with the Panama Papers operate, leading to widespread criticism of the government's actions.

"This leak highlights the key role that UK-linked tax havens play in allowing a privileged elite to dodge paying their fair share of tax," said Richard Pyle of Oxfam.

To complicate matters further, Cameron's late father Ian was implicated in the scandal, with a Bahamas-based investment fund formerly run by the prime minister's father also being mentioned in the leaks.

Despite acknowledging the understandable skepticism surrounding the British government's commitment to crackdown on tax evasion, Mr Kelso told Sputnik he held some optimism.

"We're quite hopeful that this could be Cameron's legacy; that he will try to make a big political mark."

While there is hope of significant change, he said there were still many questions to be asked in relation to the UK's commitment to financial regulation, particularly in regards to Britain's overseas territories and crown dependencies, which are known tax havens, used by many businesses and investors worldwide.

"What will happen with them? If you see strong tougher measures at the summit in May, if there's enforcement and sanctions that back up the political ask, that will be the breakthrough to seeing major change."

Taking Practical Steps

With the release of the Panama Papers sparking discussion about a crackdown on irregular global financial activity, tax campaigners have come up with many different suggestions on how to effectively regulate the industry.

According to Transparency International, one method to assist in such a crackdown would be the establishment of a "global registry" that would "collect the information on the human people" behind companies, preventing those behind so-called shell companies from remaining anonymous.

"Having one central global registry of all of the companies and all of the owners — the human beings that breathe and live and profit from them — would be a way to stop such multi-layered complex schemes to hide billions from the public," Kelso said.

While acknowledging that "there's a large road to travel yet in trying to convince the banking institutions to change their culture to better enforce due diligence requirements," Kelso said governments should be doing more in regards to the procurement of public contracts, to encourage companies to be more transparent.

"A major step they could do is simply require anyone who gets public money and who bids for a public contract has to disclose who is the human person who is actually going to win the contract. That has not yet been done."

While the extent of the Panama leaks has shocked many worldwide, many anti-corruption campaigners were not as surprised by the findings, with many critical of government inaction over the issue enforcing greater transparency.

Kelso told Sputnik that while G20 nations last year agreed to adopt new transparency commitments, very little had been done in real terms.

"The chickens are coming home to roost."

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