Category Archives: Tax Havens

Tax havens facilitate important types of harmful activity:  money obtained from crime, from corruption, money sent abroad to avoid taxes, and for corporate tax avoidance schemes which falsely but often legally enable corporations to transfer profits earned in higher tax destinations to these low tax destinations, thus reducing or avoiding taxes.  It is a vital part of these types of harm.

According the estimates of Gabriel Zucman (The Hidden Wealth of Nations), money in offshore destinations, with ownership obscured from the public, amounts to about 8 per cent of the global financial assets of households, equivalent to at least $7.6 trillion. The figure is much worse for developing countries. For Africa, Zucman estimates that tax havens hold about 30 percent of Africa’s financial wealth, and in Russia, 50 percent or more.

“A tax haven provides facilities that enable people, corporations and other entities escape (and frequently undermine) the laws, rules and regulations of other jurisdictions, using secrecy as a prime tool. Those rules include taxes, but also criminal laws, disclosure rules (transparency), financial regulation, inheritance rules, and more” (Tax Justice Network).  “A global industry has developed involving the world’s biggest banks, law practices, accounting firms and specialist providers who design and market secretive offshore structures for their tax- and law-dodging clients” (Tax Justice Network)

Tax havens 2020

Goldman Sachs Malaysia arm pleads guilty in 1MDB fraud Matthew Goldstein and Emily Flitter New York Times October 22, 2020
All told, Goldman will pay billions in penalties and disgorgement in Malaysia, the United States and Hong Kong for its role in the looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund.

Fincen Files: Thousands of secret suspicious activity reports offer a never-before-seen picture of corruption and complicity—and how the government lets it flourish Jason Leopold, Anthony Cormier, Jeremy Singer-Vine, Scott Pham, Richard Holmes, Azeen Ghorayshi, Michael Sallah, Tanya Kozyreva, and Emma Loop Buzzfeed News September 20, 2020
A huge trove of secret government documents reveals for the first time how the giants of Western banking move trillions of dollars in suspicious transactions, enriching themselves and their shareholders while facilitating the work of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins. And the US government, despite its vast powers, fails to stop it.

Report documents criminality and corruption at heart of global banking system Barry Grey World Socialist Website September 22, 2020

Despite sanctions, the networks of Venezuela’s corrupt elite continue to reach the United States. Fresh revelations underscore the need to end anonymous companies, once and for all. Gary Kalman Transparency International July 2, 2020

Who is opening the gates for kleptocrats? Transparency International June 11, 2020

Dethroned Azerbaijani elites made big investments in Europe OCCRP May 30, 2020

The United Arab Emirates: A key piece in the global money laundering puzzle Transparency International May 11, 2020

Nothing to see here. Middle-men in the UK and Spain are falling short of anti-money laundering requirements. Theo van der Merwe Transparency International June 12, 2020

Rifaat al-Assad: Syrian President’s uncle jailed in France for money laundering BBC News June 17, 2020

Professional enablers of crime during crises Transparency International May 25, 2020 (Download the report from this page.)

How U.S. firms helped Africa’s richest women exploit her country’s wealth Michael Forsythe, Kyra Gurney, Scilla Alecci and Ben Hallman New York Times January 19, 2020

Doors Wide Open: Corruption and real estate in four key markets Maíra Martini Transparency International 2017 (40 page PDF file)
How the corrupt are able to purchase luxury real estate in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Bribery and money-laundering by Switzerland and Nordic countries

CPI 2019: Trouble at the top Transparency International January 20, 2020
Top scoring countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) like Denmark, Switzerland and Iceland are not immune to corruption. Multiple scandals in 2019 demonstrated that transnational corruption is often facilitated, enabled and perpetuated by seemingly clean Switzerland and Nordic countries.

An Icelandic fishing company bribed officials in Namibia and used Norway’s largest bank to transfer 70 million dollars to a tax haven Ingi Freyr Vilhjálmsson Studin November 12, 2019

Cover of The Hidden Wealth of Nations Credit: University of Chicago Press

The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The scourge of tax havens by Gabriel Zucman

This book is essential reading for understanding tax havens. Chapter 1, “A century of offshore finance,” describes how Switzerland became a major country for those trying to hide their wealth and escape taxes, how other centers of offshore finance grew up after WWII, most with their own special contribution to secrecy, and how the combination of these centers insures even greater secrecy. Chapter II, “The missing wealth of nations,” estimates this missing wealth at about 8 percent of the global financial wealth of households and lost taxes at $200 billion, providing insights into financial structure and specifics on revenue loss as the estimates are developed.

Trillions of dollars have sloshed into offshore tax havens. Here’s how to get it back David Scharfenberg Boston Globe January 20, 2018

See the page The Hidden Wealth of Nations for further book reviews and informative slide presentations by Zucman.

Cover of The Hidden Wealth of Nations Credit: University of Chicago Press

Secrecy scores by country. Credit: Tax Justice Network

Financial Secrecy Index 2020

Tax Justice Network February 18, 2020

The Financial Secrecy Index ranks jurisdictions according to their secrecy and the scale of their offshore financial activities. A politically neutral ranking, it is a tool for understanding global financial secrecy, tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions, and illicit financial flows or capital flight.

The Financial Secrecy Index complements our Corporate Tax Haven Index, which ranks the world’s most important tax havens for multinational companies.

Shining light into dark places

An estimated US$21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world. Secrecy jurisdictions – a term we often use as an alternative to the more widely used term tax havens – use secrecy to attract illicit and illegitimate or abusive financial flows.

Illicit cross-border financial flows have been estimated at US$1-1.6 trillion per year, dwarfing the US$135 billion or so in global foreign aid. Since the 1970s, African countries alone have lost over US$1 trillion in capital flight, while combined external debts are less than US$200 billion. So Africa is a major net creditor to the world – but its assets are in the hands of a wealthy elite, protected by offshore secrecy; while its debts are shouldered by broad African populations.

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Tax havens

The United Arab Emirates: A key piece in the global money laundering puzzle Transparency International May 11, 2020

Doors wide open: Corruption and real estate in four key markets Maíra Martini Transparency International 2017 (40 page PDF file)
The United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia are the real estate markets analyzed. The real estate market has long provided a way for individuals to secretly launder or invest stolen money and other illicitly gained funds. Not only do expensive apartments in New York, London or Vancouver raise the social status of their owners and enhance their luxurious lifestyles, but they are also an easy and convenient place to hide hundreds of millions of dollars from criminal investigators, tax authorities or others tracking criminal behavior and the proceeds of crime. According to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), real estate accounted for up to 30 per cent of criminal assets confiscated worldwide between 2011 and 2013.

Shell companies let a ‘parade of horribles’ into the U.S. financial system Scott Greytak Transparency International February 4, 2020

How U.S. firms helped Africa’s richest women exploit her country’s wealth Michael Forsythe, Kyra Gurney, Scilla Alecci and Ben Hallman New York Times January 19, 2020

Tech giants shift profits to avoid paying taxes. There is a plan to stop them. Jim Tankersley New York Times October 9, 2019

Tackling tax havens Nicholas Shaxson Finance and Development September 2019
Tax havens collectively cost governments between $500 billion and $600 billion a year in lost corporate tax revenue … through legal and not-so-legal means. Of that lost revenue, low-income economies account for some $200 billion—a larger hit as a percentage of GDP than advanced economies and more than the $150 billion or so they receive each year in foreign development assistance. American Fortune 500 companies alone held an estimated $2.6 trillion offshore in 2017, though a small portion of that has been repatriated following US tax reforms in 2018. And individuals have stashed $8.7 trillion in tax havens.

 In less than a decade, phantom FDI has climbed from about 30 percent to almost 40 percent of global FDI. Credit: IMF
In less than a decade, phantom FDI has climbed from about 30 percent to almost 40 percent of global FDI. Credit: IMF

The rise of phantom investments Jannick Damgaard, Thomas Elkjaer, and Niels Johannesen International Monetary Fund September 2019 Some worthwhile and interesting (even astounding) points in this article including:

  • Luxembourg has as much Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as the United States, and more than China.
  • In practice, FDI is defined as cross-border financial investments between firms belonging to the same multinational group, and much of it is phantom in nature—investments that pass through empty corporate shells.
  • Total world FDI is $40 trillion. Phantom investments are $15 trillion or 30 percent of FDI, a percentage which has increased in recent years in spite of efforts to crack down on tax avoidance.
  • A few well-known tax havens host the vast majority of the world’s phantom FDI. Luxembourg and the Netherlands host nearly half. And adding Hong Kong SAR, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Singapore, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Ireland, and Mauritius to the list, these 10 economies host more than 85 percent of all phantom investments.
  • The firms, individuals and others who set up these empty corporate shells abroad receive substantial investments from such entities, with averages across all income groups exceeding 25 percent of total FDI.

Corporate Tax Haven Index 2019 Tax Justice Network May 28, 2019
The Corporate Tax Haven Index ranks the world’s most important tax havens for multinational corporations, according to how aggressively and how extensively each jurisdiction contributes to helping the world’s multinational enterprises escape paying tax, and erodes the tax revenues of other countries around the world. It also indicates how much each place contributes to a global ”race to the bottom” on corporate taxes. The top three tax havens were the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, which are either a British overseas territory or crown dependency. If Britain’s network were assessed together, it would be at the top. 

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