Belgian names on Panama list could face prison sentences.

If any of the Belgian names listed in the Panama Papers gave false statements about offshore holdings in the past, they will be thoroughly investigated by tax authorities

Tax haven

Belgians whose names appear in the “Panama Papers” – some 700 names, according to reports – could face a prison sentence. That would not be because placing funds in offshore investments is illegal, but because they may have lied to investigators about owning such funds on a previous occasion.

The Panama Papers is a leak of millions of pages of private financial information from the Panama-based law office Mossack Fonseca. The documents were studied for months by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which includes reporters from De Tijd and Knack, to make sense of the mass of financial information.

The documents, published earlier this week, reveal the financial constructions used by hundreds of thousands of investors to avoid tax in their home countries. Among those listed are close friends of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the late father of British prime minister David Cameron, the wife of the Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who has since been forced to resign, and top footballer Lionel Messi.

The Belgian tax authorities have on several occasions given those whose money is stashed in offshore funds the opportunity to declare those holdings, in return for being able to repatriate their funds at a lower than usual rate of tax. Some investors have taken advantage of that offer, some more than once.

However, anyone who withheld information about offshore holdings and now appears on the list of investors in the Panama Papers, can expect a serious investigation by tax inspectors, a tax lawyer told De Standaard. On the occasion of previous amnesties, the declaration of the investor was sufficient, and no independent enquiry took place.

In Belgium, 732 names are listed, among them the De Spoelberch family, the richest family in Belgium and one of the main shareholders of brewer AB InBev. The list also includes Franco Dragone, head of the massive entertainment firm of the same name and known for his contributions to Cirque du Soleil.

There are as yet no indications that any of those listed in the Panama Papers have previously given false statements to tax inspectors.

Photo: The Mossack Fonseca building in Panama City



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