S.I.F.A. tight-lipped on blacklist

By Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi 31 October 2021, 11:27PM

The agency responsible for having Samoa removed from the European Union's (E.U) money laundering blacklist is refusing to explain why they failed to achieve their target of being off the list by last month. 

The task force includes the Central Bank of Samoa, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Customs and Revenue.

Samoa’s International Finance Authority (S.I.F.A.) made a projection earlier this year that Samoa would be removed from the  European Union's (E.U.) anti-money laundering blacklist.

 Last week, the former Prime Minister, now Opposition leader, confirmed with the Samoa Observer that the former administration had plans to remove Samoa's from the E.U.'s blacklist. 

"There was an agreement," Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi responded to queries from this newspaper. 

"We had discussions on ways to achieve that (goal)."

Tuilaepa then said that with the constitutional crisis the country went through after the General Elections this year and with a new administration taking over, there was no follow-up on the discussions and the progress made. 

"That's something the new government should've followed up on the progress and all of that."

The blacklist is now composed of nine countries that are suspected of facilitating international tax evasion by means such as profit shifting and even possible involvement in moving money into offshore shell corporations.

S.I.F.A. boss Tuifaasisina Sieni Tualega-Voorwinden, who was appointed to the job in February, told the Samoa Observer earlier this year that the country was “on track” to fulfill several compliance standards required to be removed from the list. For this target, Tuifaasisina had set a national goal of removal from the list by this October.  

“In relation to delisting from the E.U. tax blacklist, we are on track,” she told the Samoa Observer in an email interview in August.

But an update of the non-compliant and “non-cooperative” tax jurisdiction list was released by the E.U. earlier this month. 

The list revealed that Samoa has not only failed to have itself removed since the list began in 2017 but that it has once more been assessed as an off-shore tax haven

In several official documents the Council of the E.U. said it had this month revised its E.U. blacklist of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes and concluded on a final list of nine nation-states, which was approved at a 5 October Council meeting.

The meeting minutes apparently close the door to Samoa being removed from the list from any earlier than next year at the latest.

“Any changes in the situation of individual jurisdictions or changes to the methodology will be incorporated at the next revision, foreseen for February 2022,” the Commission report said. 

The conclusion of the meeting states that "Samoa has a harmful preferential tax regime and has not resolved this issue yet."

An email was sent to the  S.I.F.A.'s Chief Executive Officer, Tuifa'asisina Sieni Tualega-Voorwinden on Wednesday morning for clarification on Samoa's status and the progress they made trying to remove Samoa from the blacklist. 

However, there has been no response from Tuifa'asisina. 

Samoa’s failure to seek removal from the blacklist comes as three other countries were removed this month: Anguilla, Dominica and Seychelles

Earlier this year, Tuifa'asisina said that the country is being punished disproportionately for tax evasion, saying Samoa is responsible for “a mere fraction of a percent” of a  global problem. 

She also declared that Samoa should be off the blacklist of countries without firm enough tax laws by October.

Tuifaasisina said of the two issues on which Samoa was found to have breached taxation regulations, the country is “fully compliant” with one, and would continue to work with the E.U. on resolving the other.

Tuifaasisina expressed worries then that the blacklist is not achieving its main goal: halting an estimated US$427 billion escaping Government scrutiny in favour of secret, often offshore accounts. 

“Is the E.U. tax blacklist working? No doubt there are widespread concerns that the E.U. blacklist is not fair and is biased against smaller countries," she said.

“Samoa is committed to good tax practices and joins a growing concern worldwide about problems with the E.U. blacklisting criteria and process.  

“The E.U. needs to ensure a “level playing field” with all countries they are in partnership with in terms of equitably set tax governance norms.”

Tuifaasisina did not specify which of these two Samoa is now compliant with. 

“Samoa is a responsible participant in the international tax arena; hence our commitment to work collaboratively with the E.U. (and other international bodies) to ensure delisting and finding the most appropriate pathways for Samoa to enable compliance with the outstanding E.U. criteria,” she said.

“Owing to the complexity of the issues involved, this work is anticipated to take some time, however, we expect to have Samoa reviewed for delisting at the E.U.’s next review in October 2021.”

The newly revised list shows that three countries have been removed from the last blacklist dropping the number of countries on the list from 12 to 9 countries including Samoa. 

The list of countries that were adopted by the Council on 5 of October, 2021 are: American Samoa, Fiji, Guam, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, US Virgin Islands and Vanuatu.

A recent list by the International Consortium of International Journalists found Samoa was used extensively by an Australian accountant who bragged to clients that he if not wrote at least heavily influenced the country’s tax code. 

Leaks of documents from Asiaciti, a company run by Australian businessman Graeme Briggs that offered access to superannuation schemes and creditor-controlled companies in Samoa, enabled wealthy foreign clients to use legal loopholes to minimise or avoid tax. 

In an email obtained in the leak, reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Asiaciti boasted that Briggs, who was Samoa’s honorary consul in Singapore for 25 years until 2016, had been responsible for “setting up of the structure and legislation of the Samoa offshore finance centre”. In another email, an unnamed Samoan regulator said Briggs was the “grandfather” of the offshore industry in the country.

Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa called for a review of the national tax code in response to the revelations.

Detractors of the consortium’s work said the information came to light by dubious means and was out-of-date. 

 



By Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi 31 October 2021, 11:27PM

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