Thursday, October 01, 2009

OECD's San Marino loophole: from white list to whitewash? has noted that:

"An agreement to enable cooperation in tax matters between the governments of the Bahamas and the Republic of San Marino was signed at the United Nations General Assembly in New York"

Now at around the same time Jeffrey Owens, head of tax at the OECD, has been quoted in Tax Analysts talking about his organisation's black list/white list initiative, congratulating it for pushing changes (which are positive, but woefully inadequate) but adding:

"The need to monitor the quality and the relevance of some of the new agreements has arisen, Owens said, because some tax havens have signed agreements with countries that are not major economic partners."

Which is just as we have been saying all along. Secrecy jurisdictions have been rushing to sign up with places like Greenland, the Faroe Islands and San Marino -- not to mention with each other - in order to qualify for the OECD's entirely arbitrary and inadequate "white list" -- simply by jumping over the hurdle of signing agreements with 12 other jurisdictions - any jurisdictions. They are trying to game the system, in order to perpetuate the abuses they perpetrate, using the cover of the OECD.

All of which risks turning, or has turned, the OECD's white list into a whitewash. The system is woefully inadequate - only multilateral, automatic exchange of information will do.

The TaxAnalysts story continued:

"For example, Owens also said that of Monaco's 12 agreements, very few are with major economic partners like Italy. "From Monaco's perspective, we would be expecting them to have agreements with partners like Italy, which are in fact some of the major countries that are affected by Monaco," he said.

Owens also faulted San Marino for negotiating 11 agreements with other tax havens. "We will be looking very carefully at the quality of the agreements, and whether they are with countries which have an economic relevance in terms of the relationship with the countries that are signing the agreements," he said." Take a look at page 22 of this document to see all the recent tax information exchange agreements, and look at the promiscuity of Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and San Marino in particular. This list is riddled with hopeless agreements such as "San Marino/Samoa, Greenland/Netherlands Antilles, or Faroe Islands/Aruba. How could this remotely be described as serious? Where is Switzerland/Germany?

Not only that, but take a look to see how many developing countries are getting the benefit of information exchange.

There are some positive things going on at the OECD, Owens noted:

"To ensure that all of the OECD's information exchange standards are implemented consistently, Owens said the Global Forum will both monitor "the quality and the relevance of the agreements" and conduct peer reviews of the agreements."

But Owens noted this problem too:

"The downside is that there are still some of the havens -- seven of them in fact -- that don't have any agreements at all, and there are five that just have one agreement," Owens said. He encouraged those jurisdictions to look at the outcomes from Pittsburgh and to begin the process of negotiation.

One might consider the population of secrecy jurisdictions in the global economy as an ecosystem where each participant has a niche: some havens specialise in things that give them incentives to clean up in the face of the OECD's campaign; other, even muckier ones like Panama specialise in taking the dirty business that others don't want.

Extremely serious action is needed against those, extremely soon.

Not only that, but then you have the problem that Private Eye researched: so few exchanges of information actually happen in practice, that one has to wonder whether these things are having any effect at all.

But the story doesn't end there either. Look at what the secrecy jurisdiction of the Bahamas, which hopes to get itself onto the OECD white list by December, is now saying, in a Reuters story entitled Bahamas not planning to change offshore laws:

"Bahamas will cooperate with specific investigations into suspected tax evaders and fraudsters but will not change its bank secrecy laws to allow "fishing" in its offshore finance sector by foreign investigators, the country's prime minister said on Tuesday."

Which, combined with the San Marino/Greenland/Faroes loophole, means it looks rather like business as usual.


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