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.
On 17 May 2017, the members of the Finance Committee of the Bundestag cast their votes for ultimate amendments to Germany’s anti-money laundering law. The governing conservatives CDU/CSU and Social Democrats SPD rejected amendments supported by the left and Green party that would have remedied three fundamental flaws in the law which prevent the public from accessing beneficial ownership information on German legal entities. These flaws consist of
- the failure to make the registry of beneficial owners public
- the registry’s restricted scope which is likely in breach of the 4th EU Anti-money laundering directive
- a watered down the definition of beneficial ownership.
The law will be voted on in its current form by the Plenary of the Bundestag in the evening of the 18th May, with no opportunity to change the text further. The only way to stop and/or amend the law would be through the Bundesrat, Germany’s upper chamber. However, after recent elections, this outcome appears to be less likely.
Despite severe critiques presented at the law’s public hearing in the finance committee on 24 April, none of the fundamental weaknesses identified by TJN, German Netzwerk Steuergerechtigkeit and Transparency International have been addressed by the amendments voted for by the governing coalition (TJN’s written statement can be read and downloaded here).
On the contrary, the law has been further watered down in at least two (relatively minor) aspects (one change involves exempting trusts, Treuhandstiftungen and limited partnerships from the obligation to document the steps taken for identifying a Beneficial Owner; another is extending a restricted obligation to report suspicious transactions which was applicable in the previous version of the law only to lawyers and auditors to all professions covered by professional confidentiality, e.g. tax advisers).
The three main problems persist which prevent the public from accessing beneficial ownership information of German legal entities. Two concern the watering down of the definition of the beneficial owner, the first of which relates to the senior manager opt-out clause, which the 4th EU AMLD is allowing, but which the UK did not implement and the EU-parliament in March 2017 actually rejected in its comment on the interim proposal for amending the 4th AMLD (and which we have analysed in depth here).
The second problem relates to the obligation to identify the beneficial owner for the purposes of the registry. The obligation to identify and report the beneficial owner of the company is limited to situations in which the German company or its shareholders are directly controlled by a beneficial owner. The graph below (or in the written statement on page 4) illustrates the problem.
It is a fact that the trust laws of some tax havens openly promote illegality. The reality that some tax havens will not enforce foreign laws (e.g. ensuring non-recognition of foreign laws and judgements that favoured legitimate heirs and former spouses) is even publicly advertised by some offshore service providers, not on the deep web like drugs and illegal weapons, but on the internet, accessed by a simple google search on tax or estate planning.
Despite this, there has been some reluctance from governments to take on the issue of trusts, and some difficulties posed for governments that have attempted to deal with some of their more problematic features. Today, a new paper called Trusts – Weapons of Mass Injustice from the Tax Justice Network attempts to reopen the debate on trusts, and argues that there is urgent need for effective measures to curtail their activities.
In our December 2016 Taxcast: In trusts we trust? We look at the new game in town: beneficial ownership avoidance, the booming industry in alternative escape vehicles from public registers and why we must shine the spotlight on all of them.
Plus: we discuss two big stories we think will define 2017: the race to the bottom between nations on tax aka a transfer of wealth to the corporate community, and how the world’s biggest havens are increasingly having to account for the devastating effect their tax and/or financial secrecy policies are having on human rights around the world… We also report from the appeal of tax justice heroes Antoine Deltour and Rapahel Halet in Luxembourg.
On July 22nd, 2016 the French supreme constitutional court ruled on a case brought by a US American citizen resident in France who had created a trust, allegedly to distribute her inheritance. She was contesting moves by France to set up a public register of trusts connected to France in an attempt to tackle tax fraud and serious economic and financial crime. So, what does this mean for transparency and tax justice?