Bank secrecy laws finally begin to crack under international pressure

Friday, September 2, 2011

Guatemala has finally begun reforming its bank secrecy laws after years of inaction, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said.

The country, Central America's most populous, is the last remaining nation in the region on the OECD's "gray list" of secretive tax jurisdictions.

Analysts say Guatemala's bank secrecy clauses serve the interests of local elites rather than fuel a local offshore industry, contrary to traditional Latin American "tax havens."

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"Guatemala hasn't been reforming as quickly as some of its neighbors, but there are now serious legislation proposals to get access to banking information," deputy division head of OECD's Global Forum on tax transparency, Dónal Godfrey, told BNamericas after an official visit to the country.

Last year, Guatemala finally began negotiating bilateral information exchange agreements with other countries, and Godfrey expects the first deals to be signed by the end of 2011.

In July, Panama officially exited the gray list after reaching the threshold of 12 signed information exchange agreements.

Both countries are now being peer reviewed by the Global Forum to determine their exact progress toward international standards. The first phase of Guatemala's review is currently under way, and the decision on whether to advance Panama to the second phase will be made later next year.

Guatemala's opaque financial laws are seen as an investment deterrent, with the presence of multinational banks in the country among the lowest in the region.