With Britain braced for yet another scandal involving its tax havens, it is time for the UK Government to stop tolerating the systematic tax dodging schemes facilitated by some of its Overseas Territories, Christian Aid has warned.
This comes as Bermuda-based law firm Appleby admitted that the financial data of its super-rich clients had been compromised by a cyber hack. Reports indicate that the information will be leaked by the media in the coming days, with wealthy Britons expected to be implicated.
Simon Kirkland, UK Parliamentary and Political Adviser at Christian Aid, said: “This is the latest in a series of leaks that will put the spotlight on the UK’s failure to tackle secrecy in its own Overseas Territories. The UK’s network of tax havens across the world is facilitating tax dodging and corruption on an eye-watering scale. This is not acceptable – and hopefully these latest leaks will finally spark decisive action from the Prime Minister.
“Earlier this year the Government rejected the demands by a cross-party group of MPs and Lords for the Overseas Territories to adopt the same standards of transparency as the UK itself – a measure designed to prevent exactly the kinds of abuse and corruption revealed in leak after leak.
“The double standard tolerated by the British establishment is astonishing. If public registers of the true owners of companies are the right choice in the UK mainland, they are the right choice for the Overseas Territories too. How many scandals will it take for them to act?”
Mr Kirkland continued: “Offshore finance centres like Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands are part of a network of secrecy jurisdictions that cost developing countries billions of dollars every year, according to institutions such as the IMF and the United Nations. People in developing countries are losing out to UK-governed territories, and the Prime Minister needs to step in.
“The UK Government has ultimate responsibility for its Overseas Territories. Ministers are making miniscule steps forward with them, but given the scale of the problem it is nowhere near far enough or fast enough. They are turning a blind eye to the tax dodging and corruption that UK territories are facilitating.
“The details of this leak are not yet known, but they are just one symptom of the wider problem of secrecy that the UK Government tolerates. The era of companies and rich individuals using places such as Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands to keep financial secrets must end.
“The Prime Minister has it in her power to set a deadline by when the UK’s Overseas Territories will adopt the same levels of transparency as the rest of the UK. The public support her doing this, and she should do it, before her hand is forced by yet more leaks.”
The news of the Bermuda hacks comes 18 months after the Panama Papers, which saw the unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from leading offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.
The scandal led to the resignation of the Prime Minister of Iceland, revealed Vladimir Putin's global network of corruption and raised serious questions about the offshore business activities of UK Cabinet members, including former Prime Minister David Cameron. The UK-governed British Virgin Islands was the most-quoted tax haven in the Panama Papers.
Notes to Editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid is a member of ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development.
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5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit www.christianaid.org.uk