Exclusive: Asian regulators ask banks to reveal Panama Papers' links - sources

Wed Jun 1, 2016 11:39am EDT
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By Sumeet Chatterjee, Lisa Jucca and Saeed Azhar

HONG KONG/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Regulators in Hong Kong and Singapore have asked banks doing business there to disclose if they have dealings with entities and individuals named in the leaked 'Panama Papers', which contained details on thousands of shell firms, people familiar with the requests said.

The leaked documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, which contained information on 214,000 offshore companies, revealed that Hong Kong was the most active center in the world for the creation of shell firms, which have many legitimate purposes but can also be used to hide assets and avoid taxes.

According to two sources familiar with the situation, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) sent letters to the banks in April. The two central banks did not set a firm deadline for a reply, the sources said.

One source, who had seen the letter sent to Hong Kong banks, said the request asked about their dealings with a list of between 16 and 18 names.

The sources did not disclose which banks were written to nor the names on the lists.

Bankers operating in Hong Kong have told Reuters that the Panama Papers have triggered a massive compliance exercise there, with banks carefully combing through their accounts to ensure there are no problems.

HKMA said in a statement that it regularly collects information from banks on various issues or risks relating to anti-money laundering or counter-financing of terrorism, but it could not discuss details of its dealings.

Singapore's tax authority is checking on local taxpayers identified in the leaked 'Panama Papers' for any non-compliance with local tax laws, the ministry of finance and MAS said in a statement late on Wednesday.   Continued...

Mossack Fonseca law firm sign is pictured in Panama City, April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Files