Global Financial Integrity

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Money Laundering

How Tax Abuse and Human Rights are More Closely Related Than You Think

Tax abuse leads to greater income inequality that can be seen in the contrast of slums and cities.

Tax abuse has a significantly negative effect on the enjoyment of human rights.

It is a large issue that is not often associated with humanitarian causes. Often tax abuse is perceived to only impact those on the extremes: the super rich and the miscellaneous rogues who run a money-laundering scheme out of their basements.

Yet secrecy jurisdictions, tax evasion, transfer pricing, and offshore bank accounts all contribute to increasing income inequality regardless of legality.  Such inequality skews political power, which then has an undeniable impact on the availability of basic human rights to food, water, and shelter.

Tax abuse is not simply a clandestine activity, rather it is also actively sanctioned by governments through secrecy jurisdictions and other moves such as corporately lobbied tax holidays, both of which contribute to increased inequality and deeper poverty. This then violate the principle that governments should maximize efforts to provide basic human rights.

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Someone Gets Fired at BNP Paribas

A few weeks ago, we wrote on this blog that New York Regulator Benjamin Lawsky was demanding that top executives at BNP Paribas be fired as part of their settlement deal for violating U.S. sanctions and money laundering rules during settlement negotiations. Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that Lawsky was successful:

BNP Paribas has tentatively agreed to oust a senior adviser at the French bank at the behest of New York’s top financial regulator as part of a proposed settlement of BNP’s alleged violations of U.S. sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Benjamin M. Lawsky, who runs New York’s Department of Financial Services, requested the bank remove Vivien Lévy-Garboua, the people said. Mr. Lévy-Garboua has served as head of compliance and internal controls for BNP in North America and currently acts as an adviser to senior bank officials.

It is pretty typical for the bank’s chief compliance officer to be fired after a scandal like this. News reports have the eventual total at ‘at least a dozen’ executives, so we’ll see if the discipline goes farther up the food chain. BNP has announced the symbolic early retirement of Chief Operating Officer Georges Chodron de Courcel, who was expected to leave at the end of the year. No one should mistake that for real discipline, however.

 

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Why Pele’s Son, Sentenced for Money Laundering, is the Tip of the Iceberg for Brazil

Pele's son sentenced to 33 years in jail for money laundering.

Pele’s son, Edinho, has been sentenced to 33 years in jail on money laundering charges.

Edinho, a former professional soccer player, was accused of using his father’s name to run businesses that conducted money laundering. Edinho was linked to drug cartel boss Ronaldo Duarte Barsotti, known as Naldinho, who allegedly controlled a large drug operation in Brazil’s southeast region.

Prosecutors say that Edinho connected the armed and the financial parts of the cartel and operated from the city of Santos, where he worked as a goalkeeping coach. According to a Santos-based newspaper, Naldinho and Edinho were tapped discussing the illicit money transactions by starting a new business.

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New York Regulator on BNP Paribas: Someone Needs to Get Fired

Reuters has the story. Settlement negotiations are under way between New York and Federal law enforcement and BNP Paribas, to resolve allegations into whether or not the bank evaded U.S. sanctions. Reports have been circulating for a few days now that BNP Paribas could see financial penalties of up to $10 billion and may plead guilty to violating U.S. law.

Benjamin Lawsky, the Superintendent of Financial Services for New York State, is negotiating on behalf of New York. Previous money laundering settlements have resulted in much more modest fines, and little change at the senior level of of the bank’s management. Regulators may have expected banks to choose to fire senior management on their own following billion-dollar settlements in previous cases, but that did not materialize. This time, Lawsky does not want to leave it to chance:

“The details of settlement talks show how regulators are now demanding that bank employees be held personally accountable for their activities.

Lawsky, a former federal prosecutor who has extracted large penalties from other banks such as Standard Chartered Plc and Credit Suisse Group AG, has said he is making personal accountability a focus in his probes.

“If a bank commits a criminal act or if a bank commits serious regulatory violations, someone within that bank did it. The corporation is an inanimate thing,” Lawsky said last month.”

We’ll be monitoring this situation, but here’s a thought: will this rationale be extended to criminal prosecutions? Will Lawsky stop at requiring banks to fire individuals who committed crimes, or will they actually be prosecuted?

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Russian Foreign Direct Investment and Tax Havens

It can be tough to impose economic sanctions against Russian citizens if you can’t find their money. Russia’s very complex relationship with tax havens could make this more difficult.

It is also tough to try to pinpoint exactly how much Russian money is being held in tax havens due to the fact that a lot of it isn’t reported to Russian officials/international organizations like the IMF (that’s the whole point of hiding your money in a tax haven).

The amount that is actually reported is pretty jaw-dropping. Approximately 61% of Russia’s $403 billion in outward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is held in tax havens:

Just to be clear, FDI is any amount of investment in a entity which gives the investor some  control over that entity’s operations. So, if a Russian billionaire incorporates an entity in Cyprus (often these entities in tax havens are just bogus “shell” entities), and invests $1,000,000 into the entity, that will show up in the FDI statistics.

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Event Recap: Global Shell Games, Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime, and Terrorism

GlobalShellGamesCoverOn Friday, Global Financial Integrity hosted professors Michael Findley and Daniel Nielson to talk about their new book, Global Shell Games, Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime, and Terrorism.

The book follows their ground-breaking paper, Global Shell Games: Testing Money Launderers’ and Terrorist Financiers’ Access to Shell Companies, which was published in 2012. The authors approached nearly 4,000 services in over 180 countries in a random assignment experience designed to measure how difficult it was to convince a corporate service provider or law firm to create a shell company without proper identification.

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