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Feb
14

Tuesday’s Daily News Digest

EJ Fagan

Why Oil Exporting Countries Need Transparency
The Huffington Post (Slideshow), February 14, 2012

Activists push for disclosure of oil, gas payments to host nations
Fuel Fix, February 10, 2012

White House Economic Adviser: ‘We Need a Global Minimum Tax’
Fox News, February 13, 2012

Ugland House, Grand Cayman – home to almost 19,000 companies, offshore funds and financial entities
Finfacts, February 13, 2012

HMV slams ‘idiotic’ offshore tax dodging
MCV, February 14, 2012

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Feb
14

New CNBC Investigative Documentary on Corruption, Money Laundering, and Tax Havens

EJ Fagan

Yesterday, CNBC announced it’s new documentary,”Filthy Rich.” From their press release:

CNBC INVESTIGATIONS INC. FOLLOWS THE TRAIL OF INTERNATIONAL CORRUPTION AND MONEY LAUNDERING TO A SHOCKING TAX HAVEN…THE UNITED STATES

A CNBC Investigations Inc. One-Hour Documentary Reported By CNBC Senior Correspondent Scott Cohn

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J., February 13, 2012— White tigers, private jets, multi-million dollar mansions in the most luxurious spots on earth – all paid for with money that critics say was stolen by the ruling families of oil-rich nations. There are estimates that corruption worldwide costs as much as $1.5 trillion a year. In many countries, the ruling families simply take what they want, living lives of luxury while their people face poverty and oppression.

The documentary will air on Thursday, February 23rd, at 9pm, and re-air immediately afterwards at 10 pm. Global Witness’s Robert Palmer was interviewed for the documentary.

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Feb
10

Video – Oxfam: Follow the Money

EJ Fagan

Standing at the pump, watching the numbers tick away, do you ever wonder where the money goes? You’re not alone: People on the other end of the pipeline are wondering too. While we feel the pinch in our pockets, citizens of oil-producing countries are often not seeing the profits.

Big oil wants the SEC to water down the landmark U.S. transparency laws passed as part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform law. Oxfam America, together with a coalition that includes the Task Force, Global Witness, and Global Financial Integrity, is waging a campaign to tell them that a weak transparency standard is unacceptable. Read more here, or take action at Oxfam America.

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Feb
10

The transparent hypocrisy of big oil

Ian Gary

Wiston House where the EITI board meeting will be held next week. Wikimedia Commons.

Cross posted with permission from Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.

The oil and gas industry loves to trumpet their support of international transparency initiatives and their tax contributions to the US government, but when a new law requires them to tell the public exactly how much gets paid to whom around the world, they bring out the lobbyists and lawyers.

Browse through the corporate social responsibility reports of the top oil and gas companies, and you’ll see them singing from the same transparency hymnbook. Chevron says it “believes that the disclosure of revenues received by governments and payments made by extractive industries to governments could lead to improved governance in resource-rich countries.”

Many oil and gas companies are also “supporters” of the global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). (Companies can become a “supporter” simply by declaring “their support publicly”.) Unless a country decides to implement EITI, though, they are obliged to disclose nothing. For a company such as Chevron, this means disclosing tax and other payments in Nigeria (perhaps years after the fact), but nothing in next-door Equatorial Guinea, a classic petro-dictatorship. For the citizens of Equatorial Guinea—mala suerte (tough luck)!

In July 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act was signed into law. Dodd-Frank contains an important provision (“Section 1504″) that requires each oil, gas, and mining company to disclose their tax, royalty and other payments to governments in every country of operation. (Oxfam and our allies in the Publish What You Pay campaign fought hard for the inclusion of this provision—alongside our support for EITI.)

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Feb
10

Let’s CUT Them Out

Ann Hollingshead

In his State of the Union address less than a month ago President Obama brought up a basic minimum corporate tax. He noted that “companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas” and that American companies should not be allowed to use these mechanisms to avoid paying their fair share.

But in order to change this status quo, legislators need to close the loopholes that allow companies to drive down their effective tax rates far below the official rate. This needs to happen. There are far too many corporate tax loopholes—which are deductions, credits, and other tax expenditures that benefit certain activities—and they often result in very different marginal tax rates for different companies who conduct very similar business activities. It is these loopholes which allow corporations to pay an average rate of 12%, even though the statutory rate is 35%. It is these loopholes that allowed the 100 largest U.S. multinational corporations to pay about $16 billion of U.S. tax on approximately $700 billion of foreign active earnings in 2004 – an effective tax rate of about 2.3%.We must close these loopholes to align the effective corporate tax rate with the official rate.

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Feb
9

Council of Europe/OECD-Convention: New TJN briefing paper

Markus Meinzer

When the G20 signed the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters in November 2011, amid great fanfare, the OECD, a club of wealthy countries, set out to promote it as the ‘gold standard’ of international tax cooperation. As is often the case (see here or here), the OECD’s viewpoint is not quite the full story. While the Convention definitely provides various positive things — most importantly a tacit assertion that automatic information exchange must be part of effective information exchange — it also includes clear downsides.

Taken together, our fresh analysis provides no clear black or white recommendation to any interested party as to whether or not it is a good idea to push for and ratify this Convention.

The introduction notes:

4. The Convention embodies various legal improvements over Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs). Its multilateral nature is an important improvement over the bilateral processes that dominate the field of cross-border information exchange. It is also much broader than TIEAs: it provides differing mechanisms for exchanging information (‘on request’, ‘spontaneous’ and ‘automatic’ information exchange) and allows for joint tax audits of multinational corporations. This may be particularly useful for developing countries struggling to untangle complex multi-jurisdictional tax structures.

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Feb
8

Switzerland and Beyond: DOJ’s Mounting Pressure on Cross-Boarder Tax Evasion

Ann Hollingshead

About three years ago, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) caught wind that Swiss bankers from Swiss banking giant, UBS, were traveling to the United States and systematically offering wealthy Americans the opportunity to evade taxes. They also learned UBS formed offshore non-U.S. companies for investors’ assets and then engaged in an aggressive cover-up to conceal these activities.

After an intense investigation by the IRS, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) pursued both criminal and civil charges against the giant Swiss bank. Federal prosecutors dropped criminal charges eighteen months later, however, after the bank admitted to fraud and conspiracy, paid a $780 million fine, and satisfied DOJ prosecutors that it had dismantled its offshore banking operations.

In August 2009, UBS agreed to a settlement with DOJ on the civil charges and as part of the deal, offered to hand over the names of 4,450 tax evading Americans to the IRS. For a moment, it looked like the Swiss government—in a grasping act of self-preservation—would step in and forbid UBS from handing over the names. But at the last minute, the two houses of Swiss Parliament agreed to stick to the deal.

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Feb
6

Monday’s Daily News Digest

EJ Fagan

A fair economy is not radical – it’s common sense!
The New Internationalist (blog), February 6, 2012

Police raids highlight Italy’s fight against tax evasion
Reuters, February 6, 2012

US tax evasion hangs over Swiss banks
The Financial Times, February 5, 2012

Swiss bank Julius Baer cautious about outcome of US tax evasion probe
The Associated Press, February 6, 2012

United tax evasion defences start to crumble
Swiss Info, February 5, 2012

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Feb
3

You Can’t Address Corruption Without Addressing The Financial System

EJ Fagan

W. Heinman Jr, writing for The Atlantic, asks how the U.S. can play a meaningful role in helping countries tackle corruption:

Fighting corruption in emerging markets is surpassingly difficult. It involves displacing those with malign power. It cannot be initiated and led by outsiders. Corruption pervades and distorts society in nations like Russia and China where the U.S. has great interests. It was a primary cause of the popular uprisings in the Middle East and elsewhere. It remains a huge issue in the emerging markets of Africa and Asia and, especially in failed and failing states. It is a pervasive obstacle to legitimate and transparent economic globalization. And it undermines a key goal of current counter-insurgency military strategy — the building of a civil society.

At the core of these problems is bribery of public officials, and officials’ extortion and misappropriation of funds. In the last 20 years, there has been growing recognition that corruption of this sort has a widespread and insidious impact. It distorts markets and competition; breeds anger, cynicism and discontent among citizens; stymies the rule of law; corrodes the integrity of the private sector; and impairs development and poverty reduction. Bribery, extortion, and misappropriation also help perpetuate failed and failing states — and sectors of other states — that are incubators of terrorism, the narcotics trade, money laundering, human trafficking, counterfeiting, piracy and other kind of global crime.

Heinman goes on to list what he says the U.S. can do to help: continue to support international anti-bribery conventions such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, apply contemporary counter-insurgency theories in places like Afghanistan, and promote development in a subtle, auxiliary role that offers support in the form of aid, advise, and limited action.

I take issue with nothing that Heinman writes. He does a great job writing about an important topic Unlike so many mainstream commentators, Heinman sees the importance of the United States in helping to solve problems of corruption in the developing world. Too often, opinion leaders seem to believe that corruption is an unsolvable problem, or that the United States can do very little to change things. What I do believe is that Heinman missed a critical component in the fight against corruption, one that is very much accomplishable by the United States. The U.S. needs to stop actively facilitating corruption by maintaining an opaque, easily-laundered financial system.

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Feb
3

Friday’s Daily News Digest

EJ Fagan

Swiss Bank Wegelin Charged With Helping U.S. Clients Evade Taxes
Bloomberg, February 2, 2012

US indicts Swiss bank on tax charges
Money Life, February 3, 2012

Can America Lead the World’s Fight Against Corruption?
The Atlantic, February 3, 2012

India PM Manmohan Singh: ‘Long way to go’ on corruption
BBC News, February 3, 2012

Manmohan Singh promises systemic response to reduce corruption

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Feb
3

Lesson Learned: What Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Forestry Has Taught the World

Ann Hollingshead

This week, the lawyers of Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s longtime President, released a statement calling the Obama administration’s seizure of $71 million worth of assets a “character assassination.”

In October of last year the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) unsealed an asset forfeiture claim against many of Obiang’s U.S. held assets, including a $38 million Gulfstream private jet, a $35 million Malibu mansion, a Ferrari, and dozens of pieces of memorabilia of pop singer none other than Michael Jackson, which are worth about $2 million. Authorites seized many of these items, although they still haven’t been able to get custody of the plane. The DoJ filing claims Obiang derived the assets from “the misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official.”

Given Obiang’s salary of $82,000 as Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Forestry, it seems rather unlikely that the funds could have come from anywhere else. Obiang himself has vaguely—and insultingly—explained “I have been very lucky in business…and I like to live well.” His lawyers, who are perhaps a bit more astute, have claimed he “was granted a 20-year concession to harvest timber in the country in the mid-1990s and that made him a ‘very wealthy man’ by 2005 when he bought most of the assets.” I’d like to see the data on those numbers.

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Feb
2

Thursday’s Daily News Digest

EJ Fagan

Study: Money laundering, tax fraud costing Mexico billions every year
The Arizona Star, January 31, 2012

Frontier Africa may choke on mine rush
Reuters, February 2, 2012

Malaysian airports to install money detectors
AFP, February 2, 2012

Russia Joins OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, Bans Bribes Abroad
The Wall Street Journal (blog), February 1, 2012

OECD May Link Tax Offenses to Money Laundering, HZ Reports
Bloomberg, February 1, 2012

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