Juncker to face Panama Papers inquiry committee
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has agreed to be quizzed by members of Parliament's money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion inquiry committee.
Jean-Claude Juncker | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
The committee was set up in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, but is also looking into the 'LuxLeaks' scandal surrounding the leak of thousands of documents said to show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes.
LuxLeaks was previously the subject of another parliamentary inquiry committee, which ran between 2015 and 2016.
Juncker will appear before the committee on Tuesday and will be questioned on his role in the affair as Luxembourg Prime Minister and finance minister, as well as his current role.
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The leaked records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners.
Twelve national leaders were among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.
The parliamentary committee has probed alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of EU laws by the Commission and member states on money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion.
In November 2014, the start of Juncker's new Commission was overshadowed by the 'LuxLeaks' revelations - information about how companies had used Luxembourg to reduce their corporate tax obligations. Those revelations led to the setting up of the temporary committee by Parliament, and contributed to the Commission's own proposal for greater transparency on corporate taxation.
Juncker will be questioned about his earlier political life when he was finance minister of Luxembourg for 20 years, from July 1989 to 2009, and (overlapping) Prime Minister from January 1995 to December 2013.
A Parliament source said on Monday, "In other words, for nearly a quarter of a century Juncker played a leading role in the establishment and defence of Luxembourg as a centre of financial services."
At the time of the LuxLeaks disclosures, Juncker argued that the tax deals struck with multinational companies were "the logic of the non-harmonisation" of tax rules within the EU. What had happened was, he said, legally correct. "I am politically responsible for all that happened," he added at the time.
Apart from quizzing Juncker about his role in the scandal, the meeting on Tuesday will also give members a chance to consider the achievements of the Panama Papers investigation committee, a few months before the end of its mandate.
One of the questions is whether Juncker will be condemned for allowing practices in Luxembourg that though legal were morally questionable.
The Parliament source said, "It's a bit of a coup to get Juncker to appear before the committee and he can expect some tough questioning about his role in all this. If there was law breaking, then he is vulnerable to the charge that either he didn't know what was going on and should have, ore he knew what was going on and allowed it."
On the same day, the economic and monetary affairs committee will vote on the proposal for the country-specific tax transparency of large companies.
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