Although an interactive map, published by the Irish Times last week, titled as ‘secret companies around the world’ has indicated there are three Sri Lankan companies, three clients and 22 shareholders listed in the ‘Panama Papers’, the Sri Lankan Government has so far ‘not made any official effort’ to obtain information with regard to the same, a top legislator disclosed last week.

Speaking to Nation, Deputy Minister of Public Enterprise Development, Eran Wickramaratne said the government is presently awaiting information pertaining to the involvement of Sri Lankans (purportedly from the media) and have not taken the effort to seek details through the law firm Mossack Fonseca or the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, regarding the leak.

Panama (3)“The information available is all public information right now. A lot of information would have to be deciphered. This will obviously take some time. There is what has been revealed and there is also what has not been revealed. The government will discuss and look at the matter thoroughly and ascertain whether anything illegal or irregular has taken place,” the Deputy Minister said.

Pointing out that banking in offshore centres is, however, legal, he noted that the government will see whether there has been any violation of other laws and vowed to institute an inquiry at a domestic and internal level once the government obtained the full picture.

“Depending on the nature of what we are investigating the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and/or the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) will be involved. This will be internally decided, based on their areas of specialization and the availability of resources,” he observed.

During the last week, the leak of 11.5 million files from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca has continued to create upheaval around the world. The documents were first leaked to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Guardian, the BBC and other media organisations.

The Panama Papers provide detailed information about more than 214,000 offshore companies including the identities of shareholders and directors of companies. The documents show how wealthy individuals, including public officials, hide their money from public scrutiny.

While the use of offshore business entities is not illegal in the jurisdictions in which they are registered, during their investigation reporters found that some of the shell companies may have been used for illegal purposes, including fraud, drug trafficking, and tax evasion.
Addressing the weekly cabinet briefing, Wickremaratne said the government is keeping a close watch on shell companies incorporated in Seychelles in particular as it has been found that although 14,000 were incorporated, a mere 204 real owners had so far been identified.

Meanwhile, Police Media Spokesman, Assistant Superintendent of Police Ruwan Gunasekera said the FCID was not investigating into the matter at present.
While the CID does investigate cases involving money laundering, it does not reveal details, he added.

Meanwhile, a list of Sri Lankan names claiming to be from the ‘Panama Papers’ leak made the rounds in social media with several websites publishing a false story. However, the stories were later retracted citing that they belonged to a previous offshore accounts documents leak released in 2013 by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

In June 2013, ICIJ exposed a data base called the “Offshore Leaks” where addresses of Sri Lankan companies had been listed. The list allowed users to search through more than 100,000 secret companies, trusts and funds created in offshore locales such as the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands and Singapore.  The Government has yet to receive all the details and information pertaining to Sri Lankans listed in the recent Panama Papers leak, Deputy Minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, Karunarathna Paranawithana informed.

While the CID does investigate cases involving money laundering, it does not reveal details, he added.

Commissioner General of Sri Lanka Inland Revenue, Kalyani Dahanayake, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), Dr. P. Nandalal Weerasinghe and other relevant officials of the Central Bank were not available for a comment.

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