The decision of the Ministry of Finance to once again discuss the lifting of bank secrecy (banking privacy) once again raised voices of support and rejection among the different sectors.
The Government is promoting the measure as part of its proposals to reduce the growing debt based on the need to combat tax evasion.
While the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) is looking forward to being included in the discussion, looking towards that the lift not only deals with tax matters but that of a criminal nature.
But should the discussion concern only (tax) evaders and criminals?
Wálter Espinoza, director of the OIJ, argues that the lifting of bank secrecy should not be seen as an absolute elimination of the privacy that currently prevails in the financial market.
“The lifting of bank secrecy does not mean that we will go out to the community to say how much money a person has or their financial transactions, this is limited by legality and also by an investigation.
“This has been done for years and that is why I am struck that people suddenly freak out when talking about bank secrecy and their desire to protect something that is legal, not constitutional, and that anyway it has already been opened to the judicial system and also in the administrative system and it seems to me that it could give very good returns to the Public Ministry, the OIJ and also to the tax issue,” he said.
Historically, the OIJ Director has been an advocate of lifting bank secrecy as a way to accelerate judicial investigations, allowing that in cases where a company or individual is investigated, a judge does not have to be involved to be able to access information movements of money.
“It seems inconvenient, inappropriate,” said the OIJ chief in explaining that without the bank secrecy investigators can follow the money trail immediately and “not three months later when a judge allows it”.
“The bureaucratic wait to be able to follow the money trail thwarts investigations,” Espinoza criticized.
“This is not simply about suspects in a crime, this means that people from the Tax Administration will have access to the bank accounts of people without a court order, that means there is room for abuse and that the information be disseminated for other purposes that do not necessarily have to do with the commission of a crime.
“This is not simply about being a suspect in a crime, this means that people from the Tax Administration will have access to the bank accounts of the people without a court order, that means there is room for abuse and for that this information be disseminated for other purposes that do not necessarily have to do with the commission of a crime.
“If you review the news of recent years you will see different instances where information that was supposed to be private is abused by the authorities, so this is a blatant case of a situation where the rights of the citizen would be being put at risk by the Government if bank secrecy is eliminated,” analyst Juan Carlos Hidalgo questioned.
“What if you have an enemy that works at the Treasury and has unrestricted access to your bank information? Would you sleep peacefully?”
Espinoza argues that “The information is not going to be public, just as when bank secrecy is lifted by order of a judge, it does not appear in the media”.
The OIJ director agrees that there should be discussions to establish mechanisms and penalties abuse, in particular for those who reveal classified or confidential information.
Former legislator and former presidential candidate Otto Guevara pipes in, saying that lifting bank secrecy, coupled with other proposals such as the domain extinction project or the registry of shareholders, is a “perfect recipe” to scare capital and foreign investment from the country.
Legislators and sectors against lifting bank secrecy also argue that the measure is also a threat to competitiveness.