Sunday, September 17, 2006

Shame

An article on the front page of today's Observer reveals how senior government officals and advisers in Jersey planned to reform trust law to make it more effective for international tax dodging. An email exchange between John Harris of the Jersey Financial Services Commission, Treasurer of the States Ian Black, Comptroller of Income Tax Malcolm Campbell and legal adviser Paul de Gruchy, details how the concepts of trusts, an ancient legal device which is often used for charitable purposes, has become totally subverted for tax dodging purposes.

Now I just happen to know these gentlemen, and many of the other senior civil servants in Jersey who have worked so hard to make the island's name synonymous with greed and sleaze. Like many in the tax avoidance industry they are highly educated, enjoy the privileges of wealth and power, and clearly feel no shame about the way their chosen livelihoods corrupt and impoverish society.

Growing up in rural Jersey in the 1960s I was acutely aware of how divided the island had been at the end of the military occupation in 1945. Neighbours pointed out who had collaborated, which businesses profiteered, and who had been physically beaten after the war for 'consorting' with soldiers from the occupying forces. The majority of what went on at that time was banal (see Madeleine Bunting's excellent book on the Model Occupation), but many amongst the older generation have told me about their sense of anger and shame at what went on.

I have a similar sense of shame and anger about how the island has developed over the past few decades. All sense of decency and integrity has been swept aside to accommodate the island's financial services industry. Senior officials have lied through their teeth about what is going on. Jersey is not a tax haven is a favourite lie. We only attract legitimate business is another. The truth is that Jersey, like an ageing whore, has little choice other than to put on more make-up and get back out on the streets to attract more wealthy tax dodgers. And without a shadow of doubt, the new trust law is designed solely for the purpose of facilitating tax evasion.

How shameful to see senior public officials conspiring to promote tax evasion in the name of profit. Hang your heads in shame, gentlemen.

John Christensen (formerly of the Parish of Saint Peter in Jersey)


POSTSCRIPT (Monday 18th September) - Not surprisingly Jersey officials have reacted to the Observer article. But what a foolish reaction. Their Orwellian references to trying to improve on existing transparency and accountability represent yet another lie. There is nothing transparent about offshore trusts. No information is placed in the public domain, and there is no requirement placed upon trustees to publicly account for the trust's activities. Are these people incapable of honesty?

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Perceptions. Whose perceptions?

What are we to make of the news that accounting multinational Ernst & Young has become a sponsor of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index?

Ernst & Young:
* has exploited its privileged status to profit from selling tax shelters;
* has been found guilty of contempt of court in a malpractice suit;
* provides tax minimisation services from a wide variety of tax havens;
* been forced to pay $100 million settlement for its part in overstating the revenues of AOL during the TimeWarner takeover;
* agreed a $4.5 millionsettlement for over-billing on government related expenses claims;
* is not transparent about its own tax payments to governments around the world;
* has participated in a fee-fixing cartel in the auditing services market;
* has been found guilty in the USA of violating audit standards through conduct that was both reckless and negligent.

Our perception is that Ernst & Young is part of the problem, not the solution.

Our conclusions:

Transparency International further undermines our perceptions of its index by aligning itself with companies like Ernst & Young.

Ernst & Young appears to be engaging in a cynical ploy to align itself with civil society efforts to highlight corruption, and invites criticism by continuing to play a lead role in advising on tax avoidance schemes.

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Follow the Money

John Christensen has sparked a global debate with his recent speech about offshore corruption at the Royal Geographical Society. The story has been picked up by most of the mainstream media and has attracted comments on a variety of blogs. HM Revenue & Customs has reacted strongly to the notion that Britain is amongst the most corrupt nations, but has entirely missed the point - see Richard Murphy's blog on this subject.

What is missing, however, is a response from Transparency International, which until now has shaped the corruption discourse through tools such as the Corruption Perceptions Index, which started things off in 1995. Despite criticisms of their perceptions based approach, and despite discussions with TI personnel about the role of tax havens in encouraging and facilitating corruption, TI remains silent on the issues of tax havens, tax evasion and dirty money flows through the offshore interface. So our challenge to TI is simply this: do you or do you not accept that the existence of offshore tax havens encourages and facilitates tax evasion, money laundering and other corrupt practices? If so, how will you build this into your Perceptions Indices?

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