There has been much talk in Britain of new government proposals that tax advisors giving advice on tax avoidance could face large fines of up to 100% of the tax lost if their schemes are defeated in courts. We warmly welcome the principle of the thing: these players have been getting away with impunity when they market tax-cheat schemes to multinational corporations and wealthy individuals. In the case of the so-called Luxleaks scandal, where PwC was caught out marketing an astonishing array of socially abusive tax schemes to the world’s multinationals, the only two people to face any sanction were the whistleblowers who exposed the scheme. In 2013 UK Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard that from one Big Four accounting firm officials that their company would flog schemes even if they thought there was only a 25 percent chance of surviving a court challenge.
In the words of Margaret Hodge, the PAC’s chair:
“What really depresses me is you could contribute so much to society and the public good and you all choose to focus on working in an area which reduces the available resources for us to build schools, hospitals, infrastructure.”
Jean-Claude, Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has long tried to distance himself from his role as one of the key architects of Luxembourg’s crime-fueled tax haven factory. An excellent new investigation by Newsweek now reminds us of his efforts to display whiter-than-white credentials:
“It’s the tax authorities that develop the specific rules that are applied,” [Juncker] said last September during a hearing of the European Parliament. “I haven’t taken a position on individual tax dossiers because that also isn’t my role. The Luxembourg tax authorities are very allergic to the idea of ministerial interference.”
In March The Economist magazine rang alarm bells (again) about a rise in concentrated market power: a problem where the biggest firms get ever bigger and more like monopolies, making it easy to extract wealth from the rest of us (as opposed to creating wealth.) This, in turn fosters steeper inequality and poverty and reduces economic growth. As they put it:
“High profits across a whole economy can be a sign of sickness. They can signal the existence of firms more adept at siphoning wealth off than creating it afresh, such as those that exploit monopolies. If companies capture more profits than they can spend, it can lead to a shortfall of demand.”
From Fools’ Gold:
Recently we wrote an article entitled The Ideologists of the Competitiveness Agenda, in which we fingered the Big Four firm of accountants as among the most important vectors for the general idea that countries simply have to ‘compete’ in certain ways: namely, to shower goodies at wealthy people and multinationals, for fear that they’ll relocate elsewhere. As we’ve often argued: that attitude is not just misplaced, but generically harmful.
Now, here’s a recent example of a Big Four firm, PwC, playing the “competitiveness” game, in a
lobbying document report purporting to assess the fiscal regimes for gold mining in four African countries. (Thanks to Mark Zirnsak of Tax Justice Network Australia for pointing this one out.)
A new guest blog by Atul K. Shah, Senior Lecturer, Suffolk Business School, University Campus Suffolk, UK. This is based on a paper Shah first presented at a Tax Justice Network Research Workshop at City University in June 2015, and it follows a more focused piece last month calling for a probe into KPMG: a call that was cited in the Financial Times. Cross-posted with Tax Research UK, slightly adapted.
Guest blog: Professional Chameleons Or Independent Public Auditors And Regulators?
A Case Study of KPMG and its Regulatory Arbitrage Services
By Atul Shah
Recent news regarding tax avoidance and unethical banking cultures are putting an increasing spotlight on the Big 4 Accounting Firms and their independence, professionalism and conflicts of interest. Scholars are beginning to question their huge power and influence in global accounting, auditing and tax, yet little is known about exactly how they practice regulatory arbitrage and the extent to which it is structural and systemic, and how they continue to get away scot free from major financial crises and corporate failures. In the case of the audit failure at HBOS, KPMG have still not been independently investigated eight years after the loss of billions of pounds, thousands of jobs and huge losses for investors, pensioners and retirees.