Global Financial Integrity

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Tax Havens/Bank Secrecy

New Thomson Reuters Foundation Media Program to Investigate Illicit Finance, Tax Abuse

Thomson Reuters Foundation Seeks Applications from African Media for Illicit Finance Training and Assistance Program by July 28th

Are you an ambitious journalist in Africa with an interest in probing illicit finance, money laundering, and tax related abuses? Or, perhaps, you represent an outstanding, independent media organization based in Africa with a desire and reputation for exposing financial crime and corruption?

Either way, the Thomson Reuters Foundation is launching a new three-year program assisting African media on the reporting of illicit finance and tax abuse, and they are hoping that you will apply.  According to the TR Foundation:

African economies lose huge sums of money every year through practices such as tax evasion and avoidance, often carried out by large companies. However, this phenomenon receives little attention and is rarely the subject of in-depth investigation.

Thomson Reuters Foundation believes that African media has a vital role to play in bringing this issue to light and exposing tax abuse where it is taking place. We also believe that collaboration between journalists and media organisations across borders is essential when reporting on money flows between countries.

We are seeking outstanding journalists and ambitious, independent media organisations to join us in this new project.

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What Fixing the Vatican Bank Means for All Banks

Reforms at the Vatican Bank Should Pave the Way for Transparency Improvements at Larger Financial Institutions

Last week, Pope Francis announced that French investor Jean-Baptiste de Franssu will head the Institute for Religious Works (IOR). Franssu’s appointment, as well as the appointment of an entirely new board, signals a new phase in the Holy See’s project to restore faith in the scandal-ridden bank.

Franssu’s predecessor, German Ernst von Freyburg, is credited with initiating the process of freezing and blocking suspicious accounts at the bank, having blocked 3,000 of the 19,000 total accounts. Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s top finance official, hopes to continue this legacy, saying “our ambition is to become something of a model in financial management rather than a cause for occasional scandal.”

This transition, however, has generated substantial losses for the bank. The closed accounts accounted for between 60 and 70 million dollars of assets leaving the bank. An audit by Promontory Financial also added to the price tag.

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The Fourth of Awry

Tax repatriation holidays cheat the U.S. of billions in revenue.

Tomorrow marks the Fourth of July, the day on which we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 238 years ago. For most Americans, the Fourth of July is a day filled with barbecues, fireworks, and, most importantly, patriotism.

Recently, some politicians and corporate leaders have begun to push for another kind of holiday—a repatriation tax holiday. This holiday would provide a tax break for American multinational corporations (MNC) to return money to the United States from abroad.

In contrast to the Fourth of July holiday, which showcases Americans’ support for and appreciation of their country, this tax holiday would result in MNCs swindling America out of legitimate tax revenue. While a new tax holiday might produce some short-term benefits, it would almost certainly end up as a net negative for the country.

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What’s Stalling Switzerland?

This week’s optimistic hubbub surrounding the Swiss-Indian information exchange seemed to mark a new beginning for Swiss transparency and a major breakthrough in India’s hunt for black money. Unfortunately, little happened:  Switzerland admitted only the amount of money Indians had stashed in Swiss banks and rejected requests for information regarding specific account holders.

Despite the media’s rude awakening when the Swiss revealed that accountholder information would remain confidential, this result should not have been surprising. A quick look at the Swiss attitude towards information exchange—especially automatic exchange of information, the OECD’s biggest step towards financial transparency—shows that the media’s optimism was premature. Instead, India’s request to Switzerland should be viewed as a litmus test of the Swiss attitude towards the future of banking secrecy.

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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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The Transfer Pricing Labyrinth

Last week, Namibian activists raised concerns about transfer pricing in Africa’s extractive sector in an open letter to De Beers. Their letter comes at a critical time in which transfer pricing and tax havens have contributed to an exorbitant amount of capital flight from developing countries. Namibia’s economy is hugely dependent on the extractive sector, particularly in diamond exports, which alone account for 10% of GDP. With increased scrutiny into transfer pricing just across the border in South Africa’s platinum mines, these Namibian activists have delivered a timely, earnest demand to investigate transfer pricing in their own country.

Multinational corporations (MNCs), especially those which operate in Africa, are coming under increased scrutiny by governments, media, and the public over their bookkeeping and payments to governments. The extractive sector in particular has been the focus of new regulations on financial transparency: an extremely positive development, but one which has so far missed an opportunity address larger issues concerning abusive transfer pricing and how MNCs of all sorts conduct their fiscal operations.

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Three Reasons TTIP Needs Transparency

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership seeks to unite U.S. and EU markets: a gigantic trade deal uniting over 800 million consumers across the United States and the European Union, and yet all its important documents remain shielded...

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Transfer Pricing Lands Apple, Starbucks, and Fiat in Hot Water

Apple, Starbucks and Fiat in trouble over transfer pricing practices

Apple, Starbucks, and Fiat should prepare to pay their fair share of corporate taxes.

Last year, a U.S. Senate investigation accused Ireland of giving Apple special tax treatment. EU Antitrust Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has now gone further, initiating a probe of these large firms to determine whether the companies’ tax deals with Ireland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg involve illegal state aid.

The investigations specifically examine the companies’ method of “transfer pricing”. Transfer pricing is simply the accounting practice by which one part of a multinational company charges another part for goods and services to distribute profits between jurisdictions. For large corporations such as Apple, Starbucks, and Fiat, the problem lies in the use of loopholes and creative interpretations of transfer pricing rules to artificially shift profits to countries where there are lower taxes or better tax breaks.

 

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