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LETTER | Pandora Papers: Owner transparency, asset declaration law needed

LETTER | The Pandora Papers exposé has shed light on how the mega-rich are 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 businesspersons and politicians have again been exposed with other world leaders on secret offshore connections, having established firms or holding directorships in companies in countries known to be tax-havens.

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

We learned too late where the money had been channeled and the wheeling and dealing that followed.

We learned the truth of existing shell companies and the millions stashed away, only because of the excellent work of investigative journalists who trawled through more than 12 million documents to tell us about the dark shadow economy and the schemes involved in avoiding paying tax.

While having offshore entities is itself not illegal, the practice has been linked to tax evasion or tax avoidance for years, oftentimes to launder money, and also as a means of obscuring 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 detecting shell companies to avoid illicit financial flows out of the country.

In a time when 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 declaration is not legally binding and does not give the MACC the power to go after those who have under-declared, fraudulently declared, or failed to declare their assets.

Malaysiakini reported the Pandora Papers named, among others, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz, Umno President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Deputy Finance Minister Yamani Hafez Musa, and Selayang MP William Leong Jee Keen, who was previously a treasurer for PKR.

Each of them was/is a holder of public office and of important entities that we know are not immune to corruption or abuse of power.

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

The Pandora Papers have opened Pandora’s box, and within we see the ills of the global financial system.

There is already a global push for the 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 there needs to be greater accountability, Malaysia must step up to this important commitment.

A nation built on transparency can only do so if those who lead it also 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.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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