Bahamas Leaks: New revelations about Canadian ties to tax haven

Luxury waterfront property in Nassau, Bahamas, July 23, 2013. Nassau is the capital, largest city, and commercial centre of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. (Stock photo). Richard Buchan/The Canadian Press

More details about the secret offshore holdings of Canadians have allegedly been revealed in a new trove of leaked documents from the same group of media outlets that released the so-called Panama Papers.

This batch of leaks, the Bahamas Leaks, turns the spotlight on the archipelago nation and the more than 175,000 companies registered there since 1990.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which blew the lid off the use of international tax havens to hide wealth in a series of reports published earlier this year has posted a searchable database of companies tied to the world’s rich and powerful.

“This creates, for the first time, a free, online and publicly-searchable registry of offshore companies set up in the Bahamas. This information has been combined with data from the Panama Papers and other leaked offshore documents to add additional heft to one of the largest public databases of offshore entities in history,” the ICIJ wrote in a post published Wednesday.

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READ MORE: Unclear if Canada has paid for Panama Papers leaks

But the ICIJ was careful to point out this information is different from the Panama Papers, which were all leaked files from one Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, registered off-shore companies on behalf of its clients.

“The new data does not make it clear, for example, whether directors named in connection with a Bahamian firm truly control the company or act as nominees, employees-for-hire who serve as the face of the company but have no involvement in its operations,” the ICIJ wrote.

Among the thousands of registered entities in the Bahamas are several with apparent ties to Canadian companies and Canadian banks.

“According to the data, RBC registered 847 companies, CIBC registered 632 and Scotiabank registered 481 in the Bahamas between 1990 and this past May,” the Toronto Star reported Wednesday.

All three banks responded to the Star, saying they have policies in place to make certain suspicious or illegal activity is not taking place.

But Dennis Howlett, executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness , told Global News the extent to which Canadian banks are involved is “notable.”

“It may not all be related to reducing taxes,” he said. “It may not all be illegal, but most of it is certainly very questionable.”

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He added the Bahamas is “the fourth-largest in terms of Canadian investment in tax havens.”

READ MORE: Panama Papers: Why should Canadians care?

While it’s not illegal for a Canadian or a Canadian company to set up offshore accounts or businesses, they are required to abide by Canadian tax law. Shell companies set up in tax haven countries contribute to the loss of billions of unpaid tax dollars in Canada each year.

The release of the Panama Papers in April had worldwide ramifications, even leading to the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister when it was revealed he had been stashing money offshore.

The newly leaked documents were initially provided to Süddeutsche Zeitung — the German newspaper that first received the Panama Papers leaks.

The International Consortium of Journalists consists of more than 100 international news outlets, including CBC/Radio-Canada and the Toronto Star in Canada.

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