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Summary

  1. The European Parliament’s temporary inquiry committee kicked off their investigation into the Panama Papers scandal.
  2. The committee took evidence from journalists at various media organisations who were involved in breaking the story in April.
  3. The 65-member committee was set up in June following a huge data leak from law firm Mossack Fonseca revealing huge offshore tax evasion.
  4. MEPs will investigate whether national governments and the European Commission failed to properly implement EU anti-tax avoidance and financial transparency rules.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

  1. Session finishes

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    And with that, today's first substantive meeting of the European Parliament's investigation committee into the Panama Papers leaks comes to and end. 

    The committee is due to hold its next public session on 13 October. 

  2. Green MEP highlights involvement of UK overseas territories

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    Green MEP Molly Scott Cato asks the journalists whether they would agree with her analysis that the UK and its overseas territories are "right at the heart of this".

    In reply, Oliver Zihlmann says it does appear from the Panama Papers leak that a "large quantity" of the shell companies listed were held in the British Virgin Islands, and urges greater moves to increase transparency of tax affairs in the territory. 

    He also says that London appeared "very often" as the location where money hidden through secretive tax structures was laundered.  

    Molly Scott Cato
  3. UKIP questions EU powers over whistleblower protection

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    UKIP MEP David Coburn asks the journalists for their view on how they can strike a balance between allowing information in the public interest to be disclosed, whilst at the same time protecting businesses from having secrets leaked by "every disgruntled Tom, Dick or Harriett". 

    He adds that he fears that the pretext of protecting whistleblowers will be used by the EU institutions to "put their fingers in the pie" of policy areas that are currently national competencies. 

    There's a sardonic riposte from committee chair Werner Langen, who replies: "perhaps we'll have to put our finger in the former British colonial pies". 

    Belgian journalist Kristof Clerix says it is not the case that "any secret" can be disclosed - and that it has already been established from several court cases that the publication of secret information must be accompanied by a public interest defence. 

    David Coburn
  4. Whistleblower protection and the European Parliament

    Background to the Panama Papers inquiry committee

    Transparency campaigners
    Image caption: Transparency campaigners protested outside the trails in Luxembourg

    MEPs have repeatedly called for changes to EU rights law to greater protect whistleblowers who leak information deemed to be in the public interest.  

    Later today, the Green/EFA group are even going to be unveiling their own online platform which, they say, will allow whistleblowers to upload documents anonymously.

    In a previous plenary sitting in July, MEPs also debated the conviction of two men in Luxembourg earlier in the year for their involvement in the "Luxleaks" scandal.

    The two former PwC employees received 12 and nine-month sentences respectively for leaking documents exposing favourable tax arrangements offered by Luxembourg to some of the world's biggest companies.

    The prosecution accused Deltour and Halet of theft and said they violated a confidentiality agreement in their employment contracts.

    Edouard Perrin, a journalist who reported on the leaks, was acquitted of all charges.

  5. MEP asks for insight into EU tax 'loopholes'

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    Dariusz Rosati

    Polish centre-right MEP Dariusz Rosati asks what "loopholes" in EU anti-money laundering law the journalists believe should be tackled. 

    He also asks what more the EU could do to boost the transparency of offshore arrangements arranged through EU firms. 

    German journalist Julia Stein says that more needs to be done to get national authorities to share information. 

    Oliver Zihlmann says EU rules in this area are already quite tight and the priority should be to ensure that they are effectively upheld and enforced in member states. 

  6. Anonymity of beneficial owners questioned

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    Jeppe Kofod

    Danish social democrat Jeppe Kofod asks the witnesses whether they faced any legal obstacles or political pressure during their investigative work.

    He also asks what legislation they believed needs to be changed to allow authorities to investigate tax evasion or tax fraud. 

    Julia Stein responds that the major stumbling block when it comes to investigating tax havens is that it is currently legal for the ultimate beneficial owner of offshore companies to remain anonymous.

    She adds that she believes this should be illegal. 

  7. Role of intermediaries 'still largely unregulated'

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    Jan Strozyk highlights the role of a "system of intermediaries" between the legal firms who register shell companies in tax havens and their eventual clients. 

    He says this structure allows the firms to deny their involvement with specific individuals. 

    He adds that the role of financial institutions and wealth managers - located within rather than outside the EU - is still a "largely unregulated market". 

    Jan Strozyk
  8. Panama leaks 'tip of the iceberg' - German journalist

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    Oliver Zihlmann urges MEPs to look into the role of  "nominee directors" - those who register as chiefs of shell companies held offshore "without actually managing" the firms. 

    He says that there is a "loophole" in Switzerland which allows lower due diligence standards for those not signing for companies.

    German journalist Julia Stein says that Panama is "just one of many tax havens", and the data revealed in the Mossack Fonseca documents is likely to be just "the tip of the iceberg".

    She adds, however, that the anonymous nature of many of the financial instruments they are talking about often makes it difficult to prove whether laws have been broken. 

    Julia Stein
  9. Belgian journalist highlights role of whistleblowers

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    After video testimonial from Frederik Obermaier from German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Kristof Clerix from Knack magazine in Belgium is the first to speak in the committee. 

    He gives an overview of his work in Belgium, which involved searching the documents for individuals and companies linked to the country. 

    He says his team discovered 732 Belgian citizens and residents in the data, with most of the people connected to offshore accounts living in either Antwerp or Brussels.

    He says that in response, 239 of those individuals face investigation from the tax investigation authorities in Belgium.

    He ends his opening speech with a speech to do more to protect whistleblowers - adding that without them, "we would not be sitting here". 

    Kristof Clerix
  10. Chair opens sitting

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    German MEP and committee chair Werner Langen kicks the sitting off by thanking the journalists for their work in this area, and for agreeing to give evidence to the committee. 

    He adds that MEPs would be interested to hear "what you expect of us" in the area of developing EU anti-tax evasion and avoidance rules. 

    He complains, however, that at the moment the committee does not have "full access to documents" and says members are in "close contact" with economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici and justice commissioner Vera Jourova about this matter. 

    Werner Langen
  11. This morning's witnesses

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    The committee will be taking evidence from:

    • Frederik Obermaier from German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung
    • Kristof Clerix from Knack magazine in Belgium
    • Oliver Zihlmann of Sonntagszeitung and Le Matin Dimanche
    • Julia Stein and Jan Strozyk from Norddeutscher Rundfunk and NDR in Germany
    • Minna Knus from Finnish broadcaster MOT 
  12. Today’s hearing

    Panama Papers inquiry committee

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    This morning’s meeting is the first substantive meeting of the committee since it was established in June and elected German Christian democrat Werner Langen as its chair in July.

    MEPs will be taking evidence from journalists at various media organisations who were involved in breaking the story in April.

    A total of 11.5m documents were obtained by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

    The ICIJ then worked with journalists from 107 media organisations in 76 countries, including UK newspaper the Guardian, to analyse the documents over a year.

    Despite a "cease and desist" order from Mossack Fonseca, the ICIJ decided to publish documents relating to more than 200,000 offshore accounts online in May. 

  13. Good morning

    European Parliament

    Brussels

    Hello and welcome to coverage of this meeting of the European Parliament’s temporary inquiry committee into the Panama Papers scandal.

    The 65-member committee was set up in June following a data leak earlier in the year from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca revealing huge offshore tax evasion.

    Over the next ten months, MEPs will investigate whether national governments and the European Commission failed to properly implement EU anti-tax avoidance and financial transparency rules.

    They will also consider whether governments were in breach of their treaty commitment to “sincere cooperation” by not taking action against secretive tax avoidance structures.

    Their final report is due to be published before June next year.