Panama Papers inquiry sets its sights on Neelie Kroes

Neelie Kroes was a director of an offshore shell company during her time as EU Commissioner. [European Parliament]

The new committee of inquiry into the Panama Papers intends to broaden its mandate to cover the Bahamas leaks, the latest offshore revelations which directly implicate the former Commissioner Neelie Kroes. EURACTIV France reports.

The former European Commissioner for Competition, Neelie Kroes, could be among the first people invited to give evidence to the European Parliament’s committee of inquiry into tax evasion and money laundering, labelled PANA for short.

This committee was launched in July, following the revelation of the Panama Papers, a series of documents exposing the complex financial structures used by certain wealthy people to hide their money in the tax haven of Panama. But its reach will not be limited to Panama.

From Panama to the Bahamas

“The European Parliament has a very clear mandate, we have to investigate money laundering. So this mandate is not restricted to the Panama Papers but also covers the latest revelations from the Bahamas,” said Werner Langen, a German MEP (EPP group).

“The Bahamas leaks put the spotlight on a former member of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes. […] We will certainly have to hear Mrs Kroes in the coming months, I am sure of it,” he told journalists after the PANA committee’s first meeting on Tuesday (27 September).

Former Commissioner Kroes named in new offshore leak

Former European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, once Brussels’ most feared corporate watchdog, failed to declare her directorship of an offshore firm, leaked files showed yesterday (21 September).

European Commissioner for Trade from 2004-2009, then Vice-President until 2014, Kroes’ name appeared in the documents from the Bahamas, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The Dutch politician was a director of Mint Holdings Ltd., a Bahamas registered offshore company, from 2000 to 2009.

But during her 2004 European Parliament hearing, Kroes told lawmakers she had left this position in 2002, and left the company altogether in 2004, before she became a Commissioner.

Panama Papers parliament committee keen to avoid LuxLeaks mistakes

The initial outrage provoked by the Panama Papers is over. Now that the dust has settled, a European Parliament committee will examine the case in detail. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Even at the time she was a controversial choice. She only got through her Parliament hearing by 24 votes to 22 […]. During this hearing, she said she had sold all her shares. Today, we know this is not true and we will have to accept the consequences, regarding the internal checks on European Commissioners,” the German MEP said.

And Kroes is not the only European politician who can expect a summons from the PANA committee.

Several public figures from the EU appeared on the list of clients of Mossack Fonseca, a major hub for organised tax evasion in Panama, including the Maltese energy minister Konrad Mizzi, the late father of David Cameron, the former UK prime minister, and the wife of Spanish Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.

MEPs to grill Cañete over corruption after Spanish elections

Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete will have to appear before the European Parliament to respond to the accusations of his alleged involvement in the ‘Panama papers scandal’ and a corruption case in Spain.

“Malta’s minister for energy may also be invited by the committee, as well as other ministers from EU member states,” the committee president said, without giving further details.

But Spain’s current Commissioner may escape the committee’s questions. “Regarding Miguel Arias Cañete, for the moment we do not plan to invite him,” said Jeppe Kofod, one of the committee’s rapporteurs.

The only members of the European executive the MEPs currently intend to interview are Věra Jourová, in charge of money laundering, and the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Pierre Moscovici.

Whistleblowers at risk

Another angle of attack for the committee of inquiry is the protection of whistleblowers, which is still not harmonised at EU level.

“Our calls for protection for whistleblowers have still not been answered. Today, we do not need more consultation, we need a legislative proposal,” Sven Giegld, a German Green MEP, said at the committee’s first session.

For the lawmakers, the question of protecting whistleblowers was made all the more pressing by the recent prosecution of the two Luxleaks whistleblowers Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet.

“The Luxleaks case, with a journalist and whistleblowers taken to court, is a disgrace,” said Danish MEP Kofod. “There are no measures to encourage those with information to pass it on. […] And to be able to denounce illegal practices, whistleblowers need to feel safe,” he added.

After the meeting, a group of Green MEPs presented a secure platform called EUleaks, intended to allow whistleblowers to reveal information in the public interest and remain anonymous.

The Panama Papers exposed offshore companies used to avoid tax, and has embroiled figures including Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko,  David Cameron,  Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, and Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.

It comes at a time when tax avoidance is high on the political agenda. The fight against tax evasion is one of the Juncker Commission's main priorities. News of the systematic, state-sanctioned tax evasion practices of many multinationals based in Luxembourg, known as the Luxleaks scandal, broke shortly after the new Commission was sworn in.

On 18 March, the executive presented a package of measures aimed at strengthening tax transparency, notably by introducing a system for the automatic exchange of information on tax rulings between member states.

  • 13 October: next meeting on international standards

Subscribe to our newsletters