Tax Evasion and Avoidance: Offshore centres hit at US financial transparency ‘hypocrisy’

World’s biggest economy is ‘major secrecy jurisdiction and tax haven’, says Isle of Man chief minister

Two leading offshore centres have accused the US of hypocrisy over financial transparency, saying the world’s biggest economy lags behind standards in their own jurisdictions.

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Sample the FT’s top stories for a week You select the topic, we deliver the news. Select topic Enter email addressInvalid email Sign up By signing up you confirm that you have read and agree to the terms and conditions, cookie policy and privacy policy. At an international summit on corruption hosted in London by UK prime minister David Cameron, the US on Thursday came under pressure over its failure to create a register of the real owners of companies registered in the country. Allan Bell, chief minister of the Isle of Man, called the US “a major secrecy jurisdiction and tax haven”, saying nearly 10 times more companies were registered in a single building in the low-regulation state of Delaware than in his territory. Alden McClaughlin, Cayman Islands president, also criticised “hypocrisy” in the global debate, saying the US and other nations should not be exempt from any requirement on standards and referring to Delaware and Wyoming. The criticism emphasises how the campaign for financial transparency has shifted focus — from poor countries to offshore tax havens and now to the world’s largest economies. Momentum has gathered since the leak of the Panama Papers last month, although relatively few US companies were implicated. “Where I get angry is the hypocrisy of the US in particular, which has been preaching to the world about the importance of access to information relevant to the US, but they themselves have not been moving at the same pace [as offshore financial centres],” Mr Bell told the FT. Mr Cameron himself said the US faced “challenges”, adding: “Delaware has lots of companies registered and not much transparency over them.” He added that Britain’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies such as the Cayman Islands, were “ahead of many developed states” in pledging to establish registers of ownership and automatically share information with foreign tax authorities. Related article US tax havens: The new Switzerland The US is a magnet for offshore wealth, notably South Dakota, which has guaranteed secrecy for family trusts The US had been seen as a leading force in fighting corruption, thanks largely to the 1977 Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act. But its commitments ahead of Thursday’s summit fell well short of campaigners’ demands. The Obama administration said last week that it had submitted draft legislation to Congress requiring companies to disclose their real ownership to the US Treasury. But legislative approval will be difficult and any information would not be publicly accessible. “The US is still lagging behind what the UK and other Europeans are doing in a number of respects,” said Daniel Kaufmann, president of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, a US-based thinktank. Research by academics in the US and Australia in 2014 showed the ease with which criminals can use anonymous shell companies to hide their money and noted: “It is easier to obtain an untraceable shell company from incorporation services (though not law firms) in the United States than in any other country save Kenya.” John Kerry, US secretary of state, told delegates that corruption was “as much of an enemy” as violent extremists, highlighting how public frustration with corrupt institutions had fuelled the 2011 Arab uprisings. “We have to say, no safe harbour anywhere,” he said. The London conference had sought to place participating countries, including Nigeria, Afghanistan and Colombia, under “peer pressure” to achieve greater transparency. Several countries, including the UK, Switzerland and Ghana, committed to press commodity traders to disclose their payments to governments, extending existing transparency initiatives.

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