Therein lies the clue as to why the UK PM is writing to all and sundry including the EU, G8, and recently visited the US, pushing to make tax transparency front and centre of the global agenda.
We share the PMs concerns about tax evasion and have been fighting it vigorously since we introduced all crimes legislation back in the late 90’s making tax evasion a crime in Jersey.
That said, clearly the UK would find it difficult to drive a G8 agenda based on recovery or growth given it has not been able to engineer either at home. The IMF review of the UK economy is due any time and may prove to be more bad news waiting in the wings.
The PM in his letter to the CDs and OTs expressed support for the low tax economies of the British centres “I respect your right to be lower tax jurisdictions”.
He also said in advance of G8 that we all need to “get our houses in order” focusing especially on who really owns and controls companies, (beneficial ownership is the technical term).
Now you have to wonder who is writing these letters for the PM as the Crown Dependencies and Jersey in particular are world leaders in this area. I suspect the PMs advisers are paying too much attention to the AID agencies and not bothering to verify the facts.
The PM congratulates the British centres on their moves on information exchange but effectively says pull your socks up on beneficial ownership records.
What his researchers clearly don’t know is that Jersey has been cited by the World Bank in a report entitled the “Puppet Masters” as an exemplar of good practice in capturing at company registry level the details of who is the beneficial owner of companies registered here. The very thing he is advocating we should move to, we already do, and have been doing for some years!
The UK on the other hand has ineffective means of capturing beneficial ownership with several hundred thousand UK companies being struck off the company register each year before they ever file returns.
A report by independent academics entitled Global Shell Games also demonstrated that Jersey’s application of anti money laundering laws and beneficial ownership requirements was 100% effective in detecting bogus companies, ranking No 1 in compliance terms whilst the UK ranked 43rd out of 55 countries and the US 39th out of 55.
PM Cameron needs to look nearer to home for improvement opportunities by starting with the near 2.5m companies registered in the UK, and there are a further 2m limited liability companies in Delaware with almost no information on shareholders and beneficial ownership, which could usefully be raised in his discussions with President Obama.
Another key step would be for the UK to regulate its Corporate Service Providers, (CSPs) who form and administer companies, something we have done in Jersey for many years.
The Jersey Government has been quick to respond to the PMs exhortations and I must applaud the measured and cooperative tone of the Chief Ministers correspondence given the circumstances.
The letters, addressed to PM Cameron, the G8 President, Michael Noonan, and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, all make clear our excellent track record in fighting financial crime including tax evasion, our commitment to sharing our expertise in this area, and our constructive good neighbour policy so far as the international community are concerned.
I am sure PM Cameron will have written his letters in good faith, acting on advice from his officials, but the terms 'stones' and ' glass houses' do spring to mind.
Meantime Jersey has indicated support for a raft of information exchange initiatives from the US, UK and G5, and done all that has been asked of it by the developed countries, many of whom are much further behind on the transparency agenda themselves.
In terms of international standards the proliferation of competing initiatives from the US, UK, G5 and EU is not helpful. It will create fragmentation, confusion and significant increases in costs that ulitmately have to be borne by clients. Much of this impact is yet to be felt in the UK. It is to be hoped that the G20 can corral the various political actors and place this programme back within the OECD where it belongs.