The secret offshore accounts: Following the money in politics - EMONG'S JOURNALS.COM

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The secret offshore accounts: Following the money in politics

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A team of 86 journalists from all over the world has uncovered the existence of thousands of offshore companies and trusts, most of which are in the British Virgin Islands, Cook Islands, Singapore and Cyprus, belonging to prominent citizens.

According to Manila Standard Today, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists conducted the 15-month analysis from a treasure trove of 260 gigabytes of data, with more than 2.5 million files.

The report reveals that numerous offshore bodies are set up in territories deemed tax and privacy havens alongside perfectly legal transactions.

A tax expert from Canada, Arthur Cockfield, likened looking at the documents to a scene in The Wizard of Oz in which the curtain was pulled and the secret machine operated by the wizard was revealed.

According to a story published in the PCIJ Web site, the vast flow of offshore money, both legal and illegal, and both personal and corporate, “can roil economies and pit nations against each other.”  The anonymity makes it difficult to track the flow of money.

What makes all this interesting for Filipinos is that at least three high-profile politicians have been named in the report: Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, Senator Manuel Villar and Rep. JV Ejercito.  Marcos is running for re-election, unopposed; Villar’s wife Cynthia is running for senator under the administration coalition while Ejercito, son of a former president, is seeking a Senate seat under the rival coalition of Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Marcos, said to be a beneficiary of an offshore trust along with her three adult sons, refused to comment on the issue.

Villar had admitted to being the ultimate shareholder of a company but says it is dormant and had a capitalization of $1.

Ejercito went on the defensive, questioning the timing of the report at a time when he was supposedly one of the leading senatorial bets according to surveys.

The three officials made no mention of such offshore holdings in their annual Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government, which had earlier proposed to wind down its operations, is reported to have started probing Marcos’ offshore activities.  It is not known whether similar action will be taken in the cases of Villar and Ejercito.

The release of the report may have different consequences for different personalities exposed as conducting offshore activity, even as some argue that such, per se, is not necessarily bad.

For our part, Filipinos will remember last year’s impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona who was less than forthright in his SALN declarations.

Indeed the clamor for transparency from public officials with regard to their assets should not have died with Corona’s ouster. For all we know, many of those denouncing the lack of transparency may, themselves, be hiding their own secrets.  We must persevere in demanding answers, punish them for their duplicity and know better than give them mandate to lead us again.

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