first_imgIn the late 1960s, as the US war in Vietnam escalated, many Americans became convinced it was both unjust and unwinnable. A government analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, working on a study on the war for the US Secretary of Defence, also became convinced and released portions of the study so that US citizens would know the truth. The files became known as “The Pentagon Papers” and, when published by the New York Times in 1971, led to such an uproar that the Government had to draw the curtain on the Vietnam War by 1973.Today, another set of papers have been released to inform the public about another war – one that even Guyana has been drawn into: money laundering. As all Guyanese would know by now, there is an organisation – the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Money Laundering – formed by the largest and most powerful government organisation in the world, G20, leading the charge. They have used their clout to compel Governments to enact legislation and launch institutions to fight the battle.But the release of the “Panama Papers” demonstrate that FATF and the G20 Governments behind it have either been looking in all the wrong places or have been wilfully blind. About a year ago, over 11.5 million files amounting to 2.6 terabytes of information were released from a hitherto obscure Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca to a German paper by hackers. The firm specialises in creating “dummy corporations” or “shell corporations” in countries, such as Panama and Virgin Islands that facilitate the mechanism allowing citizens to evade taxes on legitimate or illegitimate income in their home countries.For instance, Panamanian law does not require corporations that are registered there to declare their owners’ names. Enterprising law firms like Mossack Fonseca in these jurisdictions filter money from clients through a string of these corporations all across the world in other tax havens so that even Sherlock Holmes might not be able to untangle the money trail. We know for sure that FATF was unable, or unwilling, to perform that untangling. Only two months ago, it removed Panama from its “grey list” because, it declared Panama made “significant progress” in dealing with its money laundering weaknesses.Yet the “Panama Papers” reveal that Mossack Fonseca – which is only the fourth largest law firm of its type in the world – serviced 14,153 clients through nearly 215,000 offshore shell companies. The first set of files, amounting to not even 0.1 per cent of the total, linked 143 politicians, their families and close associates — including 12 highly placed political leaders — to the use of tax havens to shield vast wealth.Among the leaders named were President Mauricio Macri of Argentina; President Petro O Poroshenko of Ukraine; Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, the then Prime Minister of Iceland; Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan; King Salman of Saudi Arabia; the former emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and its former Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani and the Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi. The biggest names highlighted in the revelations up to this point are the cellist Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of President Vladimir V Putin of Russia, who was also named in the documents.There were comparatively few individuals and firms from the United States and Britain in the files from which the data was released. This finding simply highlights that tax havens in the US and Britain and their dependencies easily service their citizens who wish to launder their funds. For instance, while the father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was a very wealthy stockbroker, was found to have utilised the services of Mossack Fonseca, he had already been shown to have established firms in the British tax haven of the island of Jersey to sequester his family’s wealth.It is hoped that the FATF will now take action against these gargantuan money launderers in addition to the small ones.last_img

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