Anti-corruption watchdog seeks help from European Union after Bahamas leaks
By Lorne Cook ,AP
September 23, 2016, 12:05 am TWN
BRUSSELS -- Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has urged the European Union to take the lead in efforts to expose those who represent, or profit, from businesses with secretive links to the world's biggest tax havens, as criticism mounted Thursday of a former top EU official caught up in a wide-ranging document leak from the Bahamas.
Neelie Kroes, who used to lead the European Commission's powerful anti-trust unit between 2004 and 2010, was one of the most high-profile names that emerged in a cache of documents of the Bahama's corporate registry leaked Wednesday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and media partners.
The leak revealed the names of directors and owners of more than 175,000 Bahamian companies, trusts and foundations, ranging from prime ministers and princes to convicted felons. The disclosures follow the international uproar over the leak of the so-called "Panama Papers" earlier this year that revealed details on offshore accounts that helped foreigners shelter their wealth.
In the Bahamas leak, Kroes was revealed as director of one company — Mint Holdings — that she had not declared when she became the EU's Commissioner for Competition in 2004. Mint Holdings had been allegedly set up from the United Arab Emirates, with the aim of helping to acquire the assets of energy giant Enron, which subsequently collapsed following a massive accounting scandal.
Kroes, who became the commissioner responsible for digital matters between 2010 and 2014, said she did not declare her role because the company never became operational, according to the ICIJ.
The Dutch politician recently came under fire for publicly criticizing the EU's recent anti-trust action against Ireland, when Brussels ordered the country to recover some 13 billion euros (US$14.6 billion) in taxes from Apple. She is currently a paid adviser to Uber and Bank of America.
Transparency's EU director Carl Dolan said Kroes's links to Mint "would have remained secret were it not for a leak," as the organization called on the EU to toughen up its anti-money laundering measures and to roll-out public registers of those who stand to profit from stakes in offshore companies.
Kroes is the latest leading official at the EU's executive arm to come under fire. Former Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has faced a heap of criticism for taking a job at Goldman Sachs and for his role in the bank's negotiations over Britain's exit from the EU.
EU lawmakers joined the chorus of criticism Thursday, with a senior member of parliament's money laundering and tax evasion probe taking a swipe at Kroes, Barroso and the entire EU executive.
"The European Commission (EC) too often means European Corruption. It is this European Union of big business and ruthless theft of Brussels oligarchs which people disdain. The very same politicians that preach to our people to cut back on wages, pensions and public services join shady criminals in the trillion-euro industry of tax dodging, money laundering and corruption," said left-wing German lawmaker, Fabio De Masi.