Germany urges registering shell companies

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has called for an international register that lists the actual owners of shell companies after presenting a 10-point plan to combat tax havens.

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Speaking to public broadcaster ZDF, Schaeuble also said that an agreement between about 100 countries to automatically exchange tax information – due to come into effect in 2017 – should be expanded to include countries such as the US and Panama.

“With access to these two systems, one would be able to find … all people who use tax havens to launder money or avoid tax,” Schaeuble told ARD late on Sunday.

Germany had already launched a push for international co-operation on tax evasion in 2014, but a huge leak from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca just over a week ago has elevated the issue to the top of the agenda in Berlin.

About 11.5 million documents analysed by a consortium of media outlets show how the world’s wealthy hide their money with the help of offshore companies, implicating politicians, sports stars and celebrities from more than 80 countries.

Schaeuble’s 10-point plan also says that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development should act as a supervisory body when it comes to making sure that countries are taking part in the information exchange.

It adds that a statute of limitations for tax-related crimes should only start once the taxpayer has provided all necessary information, that tougher laws are needed to combat money laundering in Germany’s commercial sector, and that banks should be forced to disclose details of tax-saving schemes they offer to clients.