30 Jul 2019
John Christensen called Jersey home. A native of the scenic isle off England’s southern coast, he was a government economist with a hillside villa that had views of France.
“I was set,” Christensen said last month in an interview at a London cafe. “We had a pretty good lifestyle and plenty of friends.”
That ended two decades ago when he spoke out on a fraudulent currency-trading scheme involving a Jersey subsidiary of UBS Group AG, resulting in him relocating to London. Christensen, 63, has spent most of his time since fighting governments and campaigning against financial secrecy, including in Jersey.
Representatives for the Zurich-based bank and Jersey’s government declined to comment.
In 2003, Christensen co-founded the Tax Justice Network, an independent advocacy group that pushes for greater regulation of tax havens. No one knows for sure how much money is stashed offshore, but economists estimate it’s $5 trillion to $32 trillion, or more than a third of the entire global domestic product. Christensen puts the figure toward the top end of that range.
“We’ve won many of the intellectual and political arguments,” he said. “And yet we’re not seeing it happen in practice. Look at where we are now. Rates of tax on capital have collapsed, inequality has gone through the roof and we’re now in a very dark place for democracy generally.”
Wealthy individuals often have legitimate reasons for using offshore financial centers. U.S. hedge funds and other money managers pool assets into Cayman Islands master funds to reduce financial and administrative costs. Offshore havens also can offer protection against unstable political regimes in investors’ home countries. On the flip side, their lack of transparency has made these places a destination for kleptocrats, drug traffickers and money launderers to stash ill-gotten gains.
Bolstered by public outrage after leaks of confidential documents from offshore law firms including Panama’s Mossack Fonseca, governments are increasingly pressuring offshore tax havens to reveal previously sacrosanct details. But that’s also triggering a cat-and-mouse game. As regulators home in on long-established locations, the tax-averse rich are now seeking out mainland arrangements, with Hong Kong, London and the U.S. among the beneficiaries.
“Capital has moved literally lock, stock and barrel beyond the ability of nation-states to regulate tax,” said Christensen, who compares the situation to a soccer match. “If you don’t have a good referee in a football game, neither team is any good and it becomes a free-for-all and everything deteriorates.”
By Benjamin Stupples, Alexander Sazonov and Suzanne Woolley, Bloomberg, 26 July 2019
Read more at Bloomberg
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