Sun and Shadows: How an Island Paradise Became a Haven for Dirty Money | International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Sun and Shadows: How an Island Paradise Became a Haven for Dirty Money | International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Like most small tax havens, Seychelles has an outsized impact that belies its modest market share. As Al Jazeera’s undercover muckrakers discovered, offshore patrons and the accountants, bankers and other operatives who help them usually don’t settle for a single offshore company or bank account. They create elaborate webs that use multiple jurisdictions, multiple front men and multiple layers of ownership. Smaller havens such as Seychelles are crucial links in these chains of secrecy and in the wider offshore system.

They support a system that, critics charge, caters to drug traffickers, fraudsters, money launderers and high-net-worth tax dodgers, fueling onshore corruption and poverty. By one estimate, as much as $32 trillion in private financial wealth is hidden is offshore havens — roughly equivalent to the annual output of the U.S., Chinese and Japanese economies combined.

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Seychelles is happy to help offshore clients embrace the flexibility of the international tax system: “Paying less tax as long as it is within the parameter of the law is legal. It is not even your patriotic duty to pay a cent more.” 

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in a nation where the president’s party controls 31 of 32 seats in the legislature, Michel’s silence on questions about his offshore assets will close the door on any discussion of the issue.

“A president and his cronies stashing their money in an offshore account, in order to keep it away from their own tax authorities — in any other part of the world, these people would be on their knees, begging for forgiveness,” says Ferrari. “Here, guess what? It’s just business as usual.”

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The offshore action in Seychelles centers on the main square, in a series of unlovely multi-story office complexes. Accountants and corporate operatives work in mostly interchangeable, white-walled offices, on desks cluttered with manila folders. They take their lunches at one of the Victoria members-only clubs, and spend the afternoons receiving a steady stream of foreign clients, or chatting on the phone with the European and American lawyers who help steer new business their way.

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In 1995, the Republic of Seychelles enacted the Economic Development Act, a law that offered broad immunity from prosecution and extradition to any foreign national who invested at least $10 million in the local economy.

U.S. officials described it as the equivalent of a “Welcome, Criminals” banner. Britain’s Serious Fraud Office called it “the perfect present for drug barons, fraudsters and money launderers.” Under international pressure, the government backed down, at least on paper. The law was taken off the books.

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For critics of tax havens, the argument that banks are integral to the offshore world isn’t a defense; it’s evidence of how deep offshore abuses are rooted in the global financial system. Many of the world’s biggest banks — including HSBC and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — have been sanctioned for failing to follow anti-money laundering rules. Barclays itself paid $298 million tosettle U.S. criminal charges that it shifted hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of banks and individuals in Cuba, Iran, Libya and other rogue nations.

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Around the world, offshore financial centers are often touted as economic engines that help small, resource-starved places improve themselves. But it is often a few well-connected locals — along with expatriate lawyers and accountants from the U.S., the U.K., Australia and other rich nations — who enjoy most of the profits.

 

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