The federal government won't say exactly how it got its hands on the Panama Papers, but investigators are already scouring the leaked files for tax dodging, and criminal charges will eventually be laid if at all possible, Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier says.
The minister confirmed Monday following question period in the House of Commons that the Canada Revenue Agency obtained the full Panama Papers last week and intends to use the documents to launch audits and go after possible tax cheats.
"We are looking into what's going on in these cases with a fine-toothed comb," she said. "If we can lay criminal charges, we will lay criminal charges.… As I've said since the beginning, nobody will be able to hide."
It took several days to acquire the entire cache of 11.5 million files — they amount to 2.6 terabytes of data — but the last files arrived on Thursday, according to the minister's spokeswoman, Chloé Luciani-Girouard
She wouldn't name the exact source, but said Canada acquired the records through its tax treaty partners in the G20.
Panama Papers names go public
The news comes as a portion of the enormous data leak became public on Monday. The Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has made a searchable database available online that allows anyone to look up names of people and companies in the Panama Papers.
The public database does not contain the trove of personal information in the leak such as passport photocopies, emails, bank account numbers or stock certificates. The ICIJ, whose media partners include CBC News and the Toronto Star in Canada, is withholding that for privacy reasons.
The Panama Papers consist of files on more than 214,000 offshore companies, trusts and foundations that were set up or administered by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca over the last 40 years. The law firm is one of the biggest creators of offshore corporations in the world.
While offshore accounts are not in themselves illegal, the leaked records show their secrecy is often exploited to cloak illicit acts like tax evasion, sanctions busting or political corruption.
In a court application last week to get the Royal Bank to turn over files on any of its customers with links to the Panama Papers, the Canada Revenue Agency said: "It is the experience of the CRA that Canadian taxpayers who hold … property through an offshore entity, or who may carry on business through an offshore entity, may not comply with their duties and obligations under the [Income Tax Act]."
Who's in the Panama Papers? Search the database
Confidential details of the more than 214,000 offshore accounts in the Panama Papers — including the names of at least 625 Canadians — were revealed this week by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in the hope that public scrutiny of the material will generate hundreds of tips about possible corruption and tax dodging.
The new information includes the name of anyone listed as a director or shareholder of an offshore company in the data leak, the names and addresses of the secret offshore companies and the identities of hundreds of intermediary firms that create and help run offshore corporations.