Most of the South African taxpayers cited in the Panama Papers and identified as risky by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) had used a very similar offshore structure, which was facilitated by a single domestic intermediary, SARS disclosed on Wednesday.
The information emerged during an engagement by three parliamentary committees with a range of government departments and agencies involved in the fight against illicit financial flows, base erosion and profit shifting.
SARS said in a presentation to the hearing that it started engagements with taxpayers in June last year. The offshore structures of 603 South African residents out of the 1,666 cited in the papers (after removing duplicates) had been facilitated by a single South African intermediary.
The papers identified 1,917 cases (including duplicates) where South African residents were cited. Of the cases cited 1,083 were matched against the SARS database, 292 had no records, and 291 had incomplete records. SARS said it had risk-profiled 814 cases of which 701 met the risk criteria of there being no or relatively low disclosure of foreign assets or income. Engagements with selected taxpayers commenced in June last year.
The papers refer to the leak of information held by Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which is involved in the incorporation of offshore entities. The data was obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared internationally with select newspapers.
The leaked information consisted of 11.5-million internal files, 210,000 offshore companies and implicated 14,000 banks, law firms, company incorporators, and the like. Financial Intelligence Centre executive director Murray Michell told MPs that the centre had not uncovered any issues of non-compliance requiring criminal action in its investigation of the data revealed by the papers.
The centre conducted compliance inspections along with the Law Society of SA and the Financial Services Board, which confirmed “that all required documents/information for identification and verification of clients were obtained in line with the applicable regulations”.