If there is a one sentence argument that we forward here at the Task Force, it is this: financial opacity, of all kinds, is a root cause of global poverty. Media reports sometimes fail to make this connection and sometimes tinker around the edges of it, but rarely make the link as directly as Hakima Abbas’ excellent op-ed for Al-Jazeera.
If you only read one thing today, this article should be it. Nicholas Shaxson, author of Treasure Islands and member of Task Force member Task Justice Network, published his stirring, mammoth article on the City of London in Vanity Fair today. London is not only a major nexus of global finance, but also one of the central points in the global shadow financial system, where criminals, corrupt public officials, and tax evaders eventually plant their hidden wealth.
Last week, Task Force and Global Financial Integrity Director Raymond Baker spoke at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, on the topic of Global Financial Integrity’s new report, Russia: Illicit Financial Flows and the Role of the Underground Economy, and its implications for Russia’s political and economic future. He also took questions from the audience.
Senator Carl Levin has been the greatest champion of financial transparency in the United States Senate for over two decades. As Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, he led efforts to investigate offshore abuse in the collapse of Enron, exposed rampant money-laundering facilitation on behalf of foreign dictators like Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang at Riggs National Bank, and more recently, held hearings revealing how companies like UBS helped foreign tax evaders hide money from the IRS and companies like Microsoft and HP abused tax havens to lower their tax bill. He has introduced key pieces of legislation to help fulfill Task Force recommendations of country-by-country reporting, beneficial ownership, and automatic exchange of tax information.
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee held a hearing titled, “Patterns of Abuse: Assessing Bank Secrecy Act Compliance and Enforcement.” The committee called three regulators to testify: David Cohen, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, United States Department of the Treasury; Thomas Curry, Comptroller, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC); and Jerome H. Powell, Governor, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
Below is a must-see video from Al Jazeera English, reporting on the report by Action Aid UK on tax avoidance by sugar companies in Zambia. The report finds that British Foods Group, a major supplier of sugar in Zambia, made a profit of $123 million since 2007, but paid virtually no taxes. The losses include over $80 million in funds moved to tax havens, and a $47 million ‘management fee’ from British Food Group’s Irish subsidiary. And this is all in addition the billions of illicit dollars leaving Zambia every year.
Alvin Mosiama, director of Tax Justice Network Africa, and a Task Force regional representative, has as much experience as anyone in campaigning on taxes and transparency for developing countries. In a great op-ed for Devex that everyone should read, he outlines how corporations aren’t just shifting profits to tax havens, but simultaneously shifting the burden of funding the government to those that can least afford it.
We should have highlighted this back in the fall, but failed to do so. The Association of Concerned African Scholars (ACAS) released a fantastic series of articles titled, “Africa’s Capital Losses: What Can Be Done?” The series is edited by Léonce Ndikumana and James Boyce, members of the Task Force’s Economist’s Advisory Council, and includes articles by Global Financial Integrity and Task Force Director Raymond Baker, as well as Tax Justice Network’s John Christensen and Nicholas Shaxson.
Last week, Task Force member Global Financial Integrity hosted a panel discussion to discuss Laurence Cockcroft’s new book, Global Corruption: Power, Money, and Ethics in the Modern World. Panelists include Cockcroft, GFI and Task Force Director Raymond Baker, Center for Concern President Les Myers, and Fairfax Group CEO Michael Hershman. Cockcroft is a prominent development economist, and a founding member of Transparency International-UK.
In today’s issue, the Economist published a fantastic 14-page special report on the shadow financial system and the crime, corruption, and tax dodging that it facilitates. The report included numerous citations of Task Force members Tax Justice Network and Global Financial Integrity, as well as strong arguments in favor of Task Force recommendations for automatic exchange of tax information and the elimination of anonymous shell companies.
Late last week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced the Corporate Tax Fairness Act. Right now, corporations based in the United States are allowed to defer taxes on any overseas earnings indefinitely. In practice, this leads to two things: tremendous amounts of profit shifting via abusive transfer pricing to tax havens, and large deposits of untaxed cash sitting in bank accounts located in those same tax havens. If enacted, this law would end deferral, requiring that all U.S. corporate profit would be taxed for the year that it was earned.
Australia has long been an international leader on financial transparency issues, whether we’re talking about taxes, beneficial ownership academic research, or money laundering laws. They aren’t perfect, but it looks like the Australian Parliament will support an important new provision to make their tax system a whole lot more transparent: