Tax Justice Blog

Do Anti-Money Laundering requirements solve ‘fake residency’ concerns?

May 30, 2017   Blog

Do Anti-Money Laundering (AML) requirements solve the Common Reporting Standard’s “fake residency” concerns for automatic exchange of banking information?

Short answer: we wish…

Here’s a longer answer:

In response to our recent blog about the use of fake residencies to avoid the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard on automatic exchange of banking information – where we proposed extra questions by the bank, whenever someone declares to be resident in a tax haven offering residency or citizenship in exchange for money – we were questioned a about whether the bank’s own AML requirements would make these extra questions become unnecessary.

It is true that the CRS constantly states that banks should use information obtained pursuant to AML to check for consistency with the information declared by account holders. However, if the CRS were that confident about the AML processes in banks, why even bother to ask for an extra self-certification (where the account holder declares their residence) whenever a new account is opened or when some old accounts have conflicting information? Why not simply say: for all accounts, old or new, just trust whatever information was obtained pursuant to AML? Otherwise why would the OECD say it is putting “citizenship-for-sale schemes” in its sights when referring to schemes that avoid the CRS?

While we cannot know what’s in the OECD’s mind (after all, we weren’t invited to design the CRS, however much we tried to make it accessible for developing countries and loophole-free), we have our guesses. AML provisions try to ensure, among other, that the origin of the funds is legal – the residency of the account holder is part, but certainly not the main focus of AML.

As for how trustworthy banks’ AML processes are, here are a few examples about “effective” measures by major banks, relating to the core issue of preventing money laundering:

[In 2013] HSBC was accused of failing to monitor more than $670 billion in wire transfers and more than $9.4 billion in purchases of U.S. currency from HSBC Mexico, allowing for money laundering, prosecutors said. The bank also violated U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Cuba, according to a criminal information filed in the case.

You’d think that HSBC might have learned their lesson and now they’re “super” compliant:

[In 2017] The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) commissioned a skilled person review – a so-called “166 report” […] The investigation was launched after the monitor installed by US authorities to oversee improvements in HSBC’s financial crime measures flagged worries about its progress.


Banamex USA, a subsidiary of the US banking conglomerate Citigroup, accepted responsibility for “criminal violations by willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering (AML) compliance program … and willfully failing to file Suspicious Activity Reports,” according to a May 22 press release from the US Department of Justice.


Between 2010 and 2014, at least $20.8 billion was laundered out of Russia, funneled into banks in Moldova and Latvia, and spread from there into 96 countries across the world… a lot—an awful lot—of international banks ended up as hosts for the money, despite their anti-money-laundering controls… This cash then ended up in accounts at 732 banks, including giants like HSBC, Bank of China, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Citibank, and Royal Bank of Scotland.

This doesn’t just involve major banks – just look at Andorra’s Banca Privada d’Andorra:

In 2015, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) said BPA had helped organized crime groups from Venezuela to China launder billions of dollars.

And sadly, this isn’t just a problem of banks either. The CRS requires many other financial institutions to identify account holders and their residencies, including investment entities, insurance companies and some trusts – all of these likely have even less stringent AML requirements overall, than banks. So, do we feel any more confident because financial institutions collect residencies pursuant to AML requirement? Not really.

Now let’s look at how countries are doing in terms of their compliance with FATF Recommendations on AML, especially regarding old Recommendation 5/new Recommendation 10 about customer due diligence (basically, the information financial institutions must obtain from their clients, which is supposedly relevant to identify fake residencies, even though this is not their main focus):


Tax Justice Network annual conference, July 2017: Preliminary programme and registration

May 30, 2017   Blog, Events





City, University of London, 5-6 July 2017

Tax justice stands at a crossroads: after a period of sustained but partial progress, 2017 brings with it a strong risk of deterioration. This year’s annual conference will evaluate the extent of recent advances in international financial transparency, and against tax evasion and avoidance, and look ahead to the policy earthquakes likely to be wrought by the UK’s exit from the European Union, and the USA’s election of President Trump. With the UK at the head of the biggest global secrecy network, and the USA potentially the biggest threat to progress, tax justice stands at a crossroads.

At the same time, lower-income countries are more powerfully mobilised on tax justice issues than ever before, with Ecuador’s leadership of the G77 directed to the creation of a globally representative, intergovernmental tax body. Coupled with instability in the relationships between key high-income countries, this leaves the OECD’s effective role as the international rule-setter more uncertain than for many years.

Co-organised by the Association for Accountancy & Business Affairs (AABA),  City, University of London (CityPERC), and the Tax Justice Network (TJN),  this is the latest in an annual event series dating back to 2003. The events bring together researchers, academics, journalists, policy staff of civil society organisations, consultants and professionals, elected politicians and their researchers, government and international organisation officials.  The purpose is to facilitate research, open-minded debate and discussion, and to generate ideas and proposals to inform and shape political initiatives and mobilisation.

Britain’s Second Empire: our May 2017 Tax Justice Network Podcast

May 24, 2017   Blog, Regular Features

In the May 2017 Taxcast: We talk to film director Michael Oswald about his new film The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire. Listen for details on how you can see the film.

Also, we discuss booming Sweden’s ‘reverse-Trumpism’: its economy grew almost twice as fast as the US last year – and it wasn’t achieved through cutting taxes. Plus: the Russian Parliament is considering sweeteners that would accelerate Crimea’s progress along the tax haven and secrecy jurisdiction route.

Featuring: film director Michael Oswald, John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network, author of Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and The Men Who Stole the World, Nicholas Shaxson, Alex Cobham of the Tax Justice Network, Member of the European Parliament Eva Joly. Produced and presented by Naomi Fowler for the Tax Justice Network.

You can download and listen to this month’s Taxcast anytime by right clicking ‘save link as’ here.

Africa subsidises the rest of the world by over $40 billion in one year, according to new research

May 24, 2017   Blog

Global Justice Now press release:

Download the report

Much more wealth is leaving the world’s most impoverished continent than is entering it, according to new research into total financial flows into and out of Africa.  The study finds that African countries receive $161.6 billion in resources such as loans, remittances and aid each year, but lose $203 billion through factors including tax avoidance, debt payments and resource extraction, creating an annual net financial deficit of over $40 billion.

The research shows that according to the most recent figures available in 2015:

  • African countries received around $19 billion in aid but over three times that much ($68 billion) was taken out in capital flight, mainly by multinational companies deliberately misreporting the value of their imports or exports to recuse tax.
  • African governments received $32.8 billion in loans but paid $18 billion in debt interest and principal payments, with the overall level of debt rising rapidly.
  • An estimated $29 billion a year was stolen from Africa in illegal logging, fishing and the trade in wildlife and plants.

Tim Jones, economist from the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said:

“The African continent is rich, but the rest of the world profits from its wealth through unjust debt payments, multinational company profits and hiding proceeds from tax avoidance and corruption.”

Aisha Dodwell, a campaigner with Global Justice Now said:

“There’s such a powerful narrative in Western societies that Africa is poor and that it needs our help. This research shows that what African countries really need is for the rest of the world to stop systematically looting them.  While the form of colonial plunder may have changed over time, its basic nature remains unchanged.”

Martin Drewry, director of Health Poverty Action said:

“To end poverty we need to focus our efforts on preventing the policies and practices that are causing it.  That means we need to stop our tax havens facilitating the theft of billions, clamp down on illegal activities and compensate African countries for the impact of climate change that they did not cause. “

Bernard Adaba, policy analyst with ISODEC in Ghana said:

“’Development’ is a lost cause in Africa while we are haemorrhaging billions every year to extractive industries, western tax havens and illegal logging and fishing. Some serious structural changes need to be made to promote economic policies that enable African countries to best serve the needs of their people rather than simply being cash cows for Western corporations and governments. The bleeding of Africa must stop!”

The report Honest Accounts 2017: How the world profits from Africa’s wealth, published by a coalition of UK and African organisations, including Global Justice Now, Health Poverty Action and Jubilee Debt Campaign, makes a series of recommendations as to how the system extracting wealth from Africa could be dismantled. These recommendations include promoting economic policies that lead to equitable development, preventing companies with subsidiaries based in tax havens from operating in African countries, and transforming aid into a process that genuinely benefits Africa.


The research covers the 47 countries classified as ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ by the World Bank.

The research was published by Global Justice Now, Health Poverty Action, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Uganda Debt Network, Budget Advocacy Network, Afrika and Friends Networking Open Forum, Integrated Social Development Centre, Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, Groundwork and People’s Health Movement.

For more information please contact Kevin Smith:

T (+44) (0)20 7820 4913 or (+44) (0)7711 875 345.

The Price of Entry: residence and citizenship by investment around the world

May 23, 2017   Blog

Many thousands of people a year risk their lives to cross borders into what they hope will be countries of greater safety, opportunity and quality of life. Yet for others who are wealthy enough, the borders are open. For those who can pay, nationality, residency and freedom of movement are theirs.

There are many concerns around the issues of residency (see our recent blog Faking residency on how the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard for automatic exchange of banking information leaves the door wide open for fraud).

Associate Professor Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in the Law of Taxation at the McGill University is currently doing some very interesting research on so-called ‘residence and citizenship by investment’, a handy kind of ‘fundraiser’ that many countries seem keen on implementing. Why does this matter? Well, there are many, many concerns about this, and as blogger Christian Wayne says of this research,

“The implications of the commodification of citizenship and access to immigration vis-à-vis pay-to-play visa programs has long been a hot-button issue for international tax scholars and political scientists alike. Most historical analysis, however, does not typically consider the role taxation dynamics between origin and host countries can play, nor how they impact the tax regime in terms of gross revenue or the distributional effect on the wider economy.”

And he goes on, Allison Christian’s interest in immigrant investment programmes

“is what she dubs “The Inequality Factor”—that is, how much can wealthier, more developed countries demand in terms of higher prices and more stringent requirements (such as actual residence in the host country) for entry, versus how much poorer, less developed countries can demand in price and commitments from their applicants. Christians cautions that her research is still ongoing, but “the answer seems to be that there appears definitely a ‘rich get richer’ quality to the distinctions among programs, but there are lots of details in the programs that require further thought.”

Those of you reading this who listen to our monthly podcast the Taxcast (also available here, here and on iTunes) will have heard us discuss the slippery world of ‘residence planning’ and specifically the ‘synthetic residency’ dodge offered by Dubai in our January 2017 episode (starting at around 6 minutes 57). And this shocking example really does highlight the issue of just how low these offerings can go and how far countries will compete in a race to the bottom. Regrettably, there are plenty more of these.

Now, here’s what Allison Christians has presented on her team’s findings so far on her blog, along with a very interesting graphic:

Price of Entry-25 April 2017

Faking residency: OECD’s Common Reporting Standard leaves the door wide open for fraud

The OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for automatic exchange of banking information leaves the door wide open for fraud. The OECD has recently made available a form to report potential avoidance schemes of the CRS. While this form is a first useful step – we’ve been sharing with them the loopholes and risks we’ve identified, and a suggestion on how to assess countries compliance with the CRS. However, we haven’t seen anything get fixed yet…

While the lack of access to automatic banking information by developing countries is our major concern with the CRS (all as a consequence of the OECD’s arbitrary conditions, such as the need for reciprocity or to be chosen in return through the ‘dating system’), for those countries that will manage to exchange information with each other, other risks prevail. Most notably, the need to (effectively) determine the residency of each account holder.

Campaign victory disarms big tobacco’s lobby front in developing countries

May 22, 2017   Blog, Praise for TJN

Update: the Financial Times has covered the great news.

Below is a press release cross-posted from Tax Tobacco for Life, about a major campaign victory, which could save hundreds of thousands, even millions of lives in some of the poorest countries in the world. Here’s the quick story.

Big Tobacco has targeted lower-income countries as the only growth markets of the future, leading to projections of many millions of unnecessary deaths. Tobacco tax is perhaps the single most important tool to prevent this – and so the use of the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) to influence tax policy was a key part of the companies’ strategy for growth (that is, their strategy for death).

Following our joint campaign with many of the leading development and health groups (see note 2 below), and a major media splash in November, ITIC has now decided to drop its tobacco board members and sponsors. Victory!

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