Panama Offshore Banking & Banking Secrecy Laws

By: Earnest Leibermanso

Panama is one of the most popular places for offshore banking. Numbered accounts no longer exist in Panama, instead Panama has what are known as bearer share corporations and those corporations own a bank account.

These corporations are difficult to find out the real owner because when ownership is transfered no records of the sale need to be kept or registered. The person that physically holds the share certificates is the owner of a bearer share corporation and any associated bank accounts which offers a great deal of privacy.

Of course there has to be someone as a signatory on the company bank accounts but within every corporation there can be more than one person with signing authority. Being a signatory on an account is not proof that the corporation funds are your funds.

Technically, the owner of the bank account is the corporation and not the people with signatory privileges. The banking secrecy afforded by law in Panama is what draws foreigners to Panama to set up their corporations and bank accounts.

Lets Take a look at some of those laws:

Article 74 of Decree 238 makes it so the banking commission of Panama can't conduct an investigation on personal banking clients. Additionally, if it uncovers any information during normal operations they aren't allowed to reveal that information to any person or authority. They may only do so if they are subpoenaed by a Panama court. Violators of this law are subject to another law which imposes fines or jail time on the guilty party.

Article 65 of Cabinet Decree 238 regulates the manner in which the National Banking Commission can gain access to banking information and documents. The law states that they may only inspect the banks general books and that they may not single out individual bank accounts. That law covers both deposits and securities at the bank, and this to can only be broken by a court order.

Article 170 states that any person with access to confidential banking information through either occupation or activity, that uses this information without the consent of the involved parties, in a way that causes someone damages, they can be punished and possibly imprisoned. That sentence can be anywhere from ten months to two years, it may include monetary fines and they will also be barred from practicing their profession for a two year period.

Regardless of where you bank today there are three reasons that can lead to your banking secrecy being violated. Those three reasons are severe criminal activity such as terrorist funding, money laundering and drug smuggling.

In Panama tax evasion is not considered a serious crime. There is no court in Panama that will allow your banking secrecy to be violated for tax related violations unless a case is brought that can show this money was also involved in a serious crime.

Panama is a member of the mutual legal assistance treaty. In a post 911 world it is now a requirement that all countries that transit funds in and out of the United States must be a part of this treaty. When you analyze this treaty it does not threaten any of the strict secrecy laws set fourth in Panama.

The following are the basics of the treaty. The investigation can only be conducted if the offense that is to be investigated is a crime in both countries. If a country wants information they have to prove they have no other alternative method of obtaining it and they must also show they can not go fourth with legal action without the information. When information is requested it has to be specific. They can't just be fishing for information.

They must also first file a criminal case in its court system on a national level, which ensures that smaller cases are not covered under the treaty. If another country meets all of the conditions, the request is pushed through diplomatic channels and then Panama must consider the information request.

Panama values its banking secrecy laws and they may ask for more information before they break the laws they hold with such esteem. It is not uncommon for Panama to deny an information request since they need to feel the matter is serious on their end to bring action against a person. They are allowed to deny any request that meets the outlined guidelines.

Panama does not in any way shape or form participate in any tax treaties. They also do not acknowledge tax related investigations as criminal situations. Panama will not divulge a person's personal information to a foreign entity for tax related issues unless formal litigation is brought before a Panama court and the judge approves the request. This is only granted for serious crimes. Tax evasion is considered a civil matter in Panama. In Panama you must commit a serious crime to risk your financial privacy.

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