Following the Money: October 21 Conference on Making Finance More Transparent

The Norwegian Branch of Publish What You Pay is bringing together a terrific group of investigative journalists, whistleblowers, bankers, government officials, and academics to discuss how to lift the veil of secrecy often surrounding illicit financial transactions. Those speaking at the free, online conference October 21 include –

* Bradley C. Birkenfeld, the individual who exposed how UBS helped ultra-wealthy Americans commit billions in tax fraud

* Jóhannes Stefánsson and Ingi Freyr Vilhjálmson. Stefánsson blew the whistle on the bribes the Icelandic company Samherji paid Namibian officials to corner the market on the country’s fishing quota while Vilhjálmson’s reporting exposed the role of Norway’s DNB bank in disguising the bribes

* William Bourdon, French avocat who has done so much to force French prosecutors, judges, and politicians to address corruption in France and abroad

* Simon Bendtsen, Danish editor and journalist with Berlingske Tidende who with colleagues exposed the Danske Bank money laundering scandal

* Linda Larsson Kakuli and Axel Gordh Humlesjö, members of the investigative team at Swedish national public television broadcaster SVT who revealed the Swedbank money laundering scandal

Information on the other speakers and how to register is here.

Offshore Tax Havens: Whose Fight Is It Anyway?

By the end of 2017, offshore tax havens were (again) in the spotlight. This was largely thanks to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which helped release the “Paradise Papers”, a trove of documents primarily concerning the clientele of Appleby, a prestigious law firm with offices in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. These documents illustrated how firms like Appleby help wealthy individuals use offshore tax havens to avoid or evade paying taxes in their home jurisdictions; this is possible because tax havens offer significantly lower tax rates compared to the home jurisdiction, and also offer a measure of secrecy surrounding financial transactions. (Tax havens often have little to offer but these discounts; they rarely have good governance, and opportunities outside the finance industry are difficult to find for the locals.)

The movement to crack down on offshore tax havens has gathered much support from anticorruption activists. Pointing to leaks like the Paradise Papers (and the Panama Papers before them), anticorruption activists argue that the secrecy associated with offshore tax havens exacerbates the problems of kleptocracy and corruption. While I agree that offshore tax havens pose serious problems, I’m skeptical whether this issue should be a focal point for anticorruption activists (rather than, say, advocacy groups concerned primarily with tax justice or global wealth inequality). There are two reasons for this: Continue reading