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Bernie Sanders Called Out Panama As A 'World Leader' In Tax Evasion Years Ago

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 5/04/2016 Daniel Marans
ATHENA IMAGE © Scott Olson/Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

  • Bernie Sanders cited concerns about tax evasion to explain his opposition to the 2011 U.S.-Panama free trade agreement.

  • The Vermont senator now claims the leaked “Panama Papers,” which expose the offshore financial holdings of numerous high-profile individuals and firms, prove he was correct.

  • The latest polls ahead of Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday showed Sanders leading Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is highlighting his vote against the 2011 U.S. free trade agreement with Panama in light of explosive new details about Panama’s role as a tax haven.

Reports published on Sunday about the so-called  Panama Papers,  a leaked trove of documents tied to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, have generated shockwaves across the globe. The documents reveal how Panama’s secretive legal environment enables the wealthy and powerful -- including some 140 politicians and other international public figures -- to conceal their fortunes.

Now Sanders is reminding voters that he spoke out about Panamanian tax evasion long before the issue made headlines that could topple at least one head of state . On Monday, the Democratic hopeful posted video on Facebook that shows him speaking out against the 2011 free trade agreement in the Senate, precisely because he believed it would encourage tax evasion by corporations and individuals.

“It turns out, Mr. President, that Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing large corporations and wealthy Americans to evade U.S. taxes, by stashing their cash in offshore tax havens,” Sanders said, addressing the Senate president, in an undated floor speech. “And the Panama free trade agreement would make this bad situation much worse.”

Sanders went on to argue that legal provisions in the trade agreement would hamper efforts to police tax evasion by American individuals and corporations in Panama.

“Well, at a time when we have a $14 trillion-plus national debt, and at a time when we are frantically figuring out ways to try to lower our deficit, some of us believe that it is a good idea to do away with all of these tax havens by which the wealthy and large corporations stash their money abroad and avoid paying U.S. taxes,” Sanders said. “The Panama free trade agreement would make that goal even more difficult.”

Sanders was joined by 21 Democratic senators in voting against the agreement in October 2011. Hillary Clinton, then serving as Secretary of State, praised the free trade agreement at the time.

“With the release of the Panama Papers it appears [Sanders] was right,” Sanders' Senate office wrote on Monday in the Facebook message accompanying the video, which can be seen below. As of Tuesday morning, the footage had been viewed over 1.7 million times.

Bernie opposed the 2011 Panama Free Trade Agreement because he was worried it would increasingly allow wealthy Americans...

Posted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday, April 4, 2016

At the very least, the Panama Papers prove the trade agreement did not live up to promises that it would reduce U.S. tax evasion in the country, said nonprofit corporate accountability group Public Citizen. The Obama administration negotiated a separate tax information sharing agreement to assuage doubts that the deal would enable tax evasion, but as Public Citizen notes, a loophole allowed the Panamanian government to set aside transparency requirements if they ran “contrary to the public policy” of Panama.

Sanders’ Facebook post reinforces his image as an opponent of corporate malfeasance and recent trade agreements. Those issues could resonate in manufacturing-heavy Wisconsin, where Democratic voters head to the polls on Tuesday.

Sanders leads Clinton in the state by 3.5 percentage points, according to HuffPost Pollster’s polling average.

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