Nearly two years after the Panama Papers leak was made public, Canadian tax officials have carried out their first major raids, executing three search warrants across the country.
The simultaneous raids Wednesday morning in West Vancouver, Calgary and the GTA were all related to the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, whose internal files were leaked to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and shared with journalists around the world, including the Toronto Star and CBC/Radio-Canada.
In 2016 and 2017, thousands of reports were published based on the leak, dubbed the Panama Papers, laying bare the inner workings of the offshore tax evasion industry, which has orchestrated the movement of trillions of dollars out of the reach of tax authorities around the world.
The Star and CBC found more than 300 Canadian passports in Mossack Fonseca’s files, and identified Canada’s biggest offshore clearing houses, which used the Panamanian law firm to set up thousands of offshore shell companies on behalf of their clients.
While the Canada Revenue Agency has been auditing 122 Canadians found in the leak and says it has executed a number of search warrants previously, this is the first time that such a major investigative milestone has been publicized as it happened.
CRA officials wouldn’t divulge the addresses raided or what kinds of documents or computer devices were seized, but did say they that 30 criminal investigators from the CRA as well as members of local police took part.
“The CRA’s investigation identified a series of transactions involving foreign corporations and several transfers through offshore bank accounts used allegedly to evade taxes,” states a press release put out Wednesday.
Investigators collaborated with foreign tax agents and Canada’s money-laundering watchdog Fintrac to prepare the search warrants, the statement said.
Last year, CRA assistant commissioner Ted Gallivan told the Star his priority was going after lawyers and accountants who orchestrated offshore tax evasion schemes for “dozens” of clients.
Last month, the Star reported that tax authorities around the world had recovered more than half a billion dollars in tax through their investigations into the Panama Papers. But Canada will not say if it has recovered anything.
Offshore tax avoidance and evasion costs Canada an estimated $15 billion every year.
The CRA says it continues to pursue additional criminal investigations based on the leak.
A poll last December found that 90 per cent of Canadians believe tax havens are morally wrong, and 87 per cent want their use prohibited by law.
While the Panama Papers revealed the how individuals evade taxes through offshore shell companies, last year’s Paradise Papers showed how far more tax revenue is lost to multinational corporations that exploit loopholes to legally move money offshore and save billions on their tax bills.
In Canada, the 60 biggest companies on the TSX have more than 1,000 subsidiaries in tax havens. A Toronto Star/Corporate Knights investigation showed that Canada’s 102 biggest companies avoid $10.5 billion in tax each year.
Read the full story over at the Toronto Star.