The Belgian subsidiary of the Dutch bank ING has been implicated in tax evasion by journalists working on the massive leak of financial information known as the Panama Papers. The bank ING Belgium, via its office in Geneva, is accused to offering tax evasion schemes to among others Russian oligarchs in the gas and petrol industries, using strawman companies in Panama and the British Virgin Islands. Strawman companies are registered in tax haven companies, but consist of nothing more than a postbox address.
In May 2016, ING representatives testified before parliament that the bank was opposed to any sort of financial structures in tax havens. But the Panama Papers, a leak of thousands of documents from the Panamanian law office Mossack Fonseca, suggest otherwise. The papers, still being pored over by an international group of journalists, show how Russian oligarchs used the Geneva office of ING Belgium, which employs 250 people and last year reported a turnover of €223.5 million, on 965 occasions to run their shell companies in Panama to avoid paying tax.
The Dutch banking regulator, where ING is based, has described the gas and petroleum sectors as particularly vulnerable to corruption and money-laundering.
ING Belgium reacted to the news with a statement that the Geneva office was only concerned with business customers. “It is important to remember that an offshore structure for companies can also have a non-fiscal aim,” a spokesperson said. “As a general rule at ING (and not only ING Belgium), the rule is that these matters are treated on a case by case basis.”