February 13, 2019 / 7:22 PM / 7 months ago

Panama to call its EU envoy for consultations over 'high risk' list

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama said on Wednesday it will call home its ambassador to the European Union for consultations over the renewed inclusion of the Central American tax-haven on a blacklist of countries that have weak anti-money laundering and terrorist financing regimes.

“Panama strongly rejects the proposal of the European Commission to include the country in a list of jurisdictions of high-risk third countries,” the office of President Juan Carlos Varela said in a statement.

The government said Panama’s diplomatic representative to the European Union, Miguel Verzbolovskis, would be called back for consultations about the list, which the EU says exists to protect its financial system from laundering and terrorist financing risks.

The European Commission added Saudi Arabia, Panama and Nigeria to the blacklist, which was adopted on Wednesday. The European Parliament is due to vote on the additions within 30 days.

During that time, Panama will seek a dialogue with the commission to explain the country’s progress in adapting its legislation and financial platform to prevent crimes linked to money laundering.

Varela’s office said the process of compiling the list was “opaque”.

“Panama was not given the opportunity to report or respond on the actions taken in legislation and practice, to address any deficiency perceived by the Commission,” the statement added.

In 2016, the country was hit by a huge leak of confidential financial data from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, a case known as the “Panama Papers”, which brought to light tax evasion by the rich and famous around of the world.

The European Union removed Panama along with seven other jurisdictions from the list last year, citing commitments to reform policies. At the time, the regional bloc said it had moved the eight onto a “gray list.”

Countries on the gray list can be moved back to the blacklist if they fail to respect their engagements.

Panama has been included in recent years in several lists of non-cooperative countries in the fight against money laundering. The government of Varela has made legal changes to remove the country from such lists. Recently, it increased penalties for tax evasion, classifying it as a gateway to money laundering.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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