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National Bank of Panama to request to open New York branch

[PANAMA CITY] The National Bank of Panama (Banconal) said on Monday it will consider a proposal to open a correspondent bank in New York, a move that could help the country's financial sector, which has come under close scrutiny due to the Panama Papers scandal.

Rolando de Leon de Alba, general manager of Banconal, told Reuters he had received the request from Panamanian banker Moises Cohen. "The matter will be considered," he said, without giving details of when a decision could be made.

Mr Cohen told Reuters the idea was to create a Banconal branch in New York to act as correspondent for Panamanian banks.

The New York Department of Financial Services will review an application from Banconal if it receives one, a spokesman said.

Panama's financial sector has been under pressure to improve transparency since the massive data leak known as the Panama Papers embarrassed several world leaders this month and focused attention on the operations of offshore financial centers.

France in April threatened to put Panama on its tax haven blacklist, just two months after the isthmus nation was removed from the "gray list" of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering body.

Since Panama came onto the FATF list in 2014, at least 21 correspondent accounts for Panamanian banks have been cancelled, according to the Panamanian finance ministry.

The Panama Papers revelations have increased risks for US-based banks providing services to Panamanian counterparts needing to transact in dollars, said Alma Angotti, a director at Navigant Consulting and anti-money laundering expert.

Risk factors on the minds of US banks could include exposure to money laundering and corruption, Mr Angotti said.

Federal law requires US-based correspondent banks to know what kind of customers the foreign bank is servicing.