Unclear if Canada has paid for Panama Papers leaks

The government of Canada will not say if it has paid informants for information contained in the Panama Papers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The Canada Revenue Agency won’t say if it is following Denmark’s lead and paying people for information linked to the so-called Panama Papers, but the agency did confirm it has entered into contracts with a total of 20 informants over the last two years.

In a written statement, CRA spokesperson David Walters said details of specific cases, including any linked to the Panama Papers leak, must remain secret in order to protect the people who come forward to help identify tax cheats.

“A cornerstone of any program that receives informant information is the ability to provide assurances with respect to the confidentiality of the information that is received as well as protecting the identity of the informant,” he said.

Last week, London’s Guardian newspaper reported that Denmark had become the first country in the world to apparently buy data from the Panama Papers leak.

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The country’s tax minister, Karsten Lauritzen, confirmed the government would fork over the equivalent of CAD $1.7 million for the information.

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Panama Papers: Names of hundreds of Canadians released – May 9, 2016

An anonymous tipster reportedly approached the Danes over the summer and provided a sample of the information to allow the government to verify that it was authentic and could help catch people hiding money in offshore accounts.

Here in Canada, the CRA’s Offshore Tax Informant Program (OTIP), launched in January 2014, provides a direct line for tipsters to help the CRA in a similar way.

OTIP allows the Canadian government to pay rewards to anyone who provides “specific and credible details” about major international tax cheating schemes, Walters said.

If Ottawa uses the information to recover at least $100,000 in additional taxes, the reward will be between 5 and 15 per cent of whatever money ends up back in federal coffers.

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READ MORE: Canada stepping up fight against tax evasion in wake of Panama Papers

The program has been very popular.

Since it was launched, more than 800 potential informants have reached out, Walters said, and over 300 information submissions have been received. The CRA has entered into over 20 contracts‎ with informants, and 166 Canadian taxpayers are under audit as a result of the tips and leaks.

“There has been a great deal of interest in the program,” Walters said, adding that “a number of OECD countries provide rewards for information regarding tax non-compliance.”

The CRA is not able to estimate the overall cost of all those 20 informant contracts, he added, as many are still in progress.

The Panama Papers are widely regarded as the largest leak in history. Released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, they include roughly 11.5 million documents that detail financial information for more than 200,000 offshore entities linked to the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

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Tax authorities in various countries have asked journalists to give them access to the full Panama Papers archive, but those requests have been turned down.

READ MORE: Panama Papers: Why should Canadians care?

In May, National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier confirmed that the CRA had launched investigations into 45 Canadian taxpayers named in the Panama Papers.

Federal officials would not say, however, how they got their hands on the information, saying only that the CRA obtained records from “multiple sources” and is working with international partners on the file.

While it’s not illegal for a Canadian to set up an offshore account or business, they do have to comply with Canada’s tax laws and declare taxable income transferred outside of Canada.

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