Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Senior Indian official lashes out at global failure to tackle tax havens

The Indian press is reporting that Amarre Pratap Singh, director of India's Central Bureau of Investigation, has lashed out at the global failure to tackle tax havens, which have been especially damaging to economic and social development in that country. According to Mr Singh, $500 billion of Indian assets have been illicitly shifted to tax havens, including Mauritius, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the British Virgin Islands, but in his speech he criticises the lack of political will on the part of tax haven governments to support efforts to tackle grand corruption:

"There is a lack of political will in the leading tax haven states to part with information required to trace such assets as they are all too aware of the extent to which their own economies have become geared to this flow of illegal capital from the poorer countries."

Mr Singh also picks up on how perceptions of corruption emphasise the role of the victims (the vast majority of ordinary people in India are undoubtedly the victims of tax havens), while ignoring the role of perpetrators on the supply side. In this respect, he notes how supply side infrastructure, including offshore legal structures (trusts, foundations, companies, etc) and information technology have encouraged corrupt practices while putting barriers in the way of anti-corruption agencies:

"Development of new methods of financial flows and communication technology have made it easier for the corrupt to conceal and stash away stolen wealth. On the other hand, differences in legal systems, high costs in coordinating investigations, inadequate international cooperation and bank secrecy laws have made the task difficult for the anti-corruption authorities."

And Mr Singh echoes our earlier remarks about how Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index has focused global anti-corruption initiatives on one side of the coin, while entirely ignoring the supply-side role of tax havens:

"53 per cent of countrises said to be least corrupt by the Transparency International Index are offshore tax havens, where most of the corrupt money goes. The tax havens include New Zealand ranked the least corrupt country, Singapore ranked No 5 and Switzerland ranked No.7."

The text of Mr Singh's speech is available here.

Update: this has now been picked up in an FT blog, which raises further uncomfortable questions about India's own role in all this offshore business.


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