[Revised version – thanks to Lucia Cizmaziova for pointing that I had mistyped the ICIJ data for the UK and Denmark – my spreadsheet is here]

Three years ago the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that 11.5 million documents had been leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Recently they toted up the numbers from 22 countries on revenues recovered.

The total comes to $1.2 billion. This figure will include tax settlements covering several years as well as penalties. Currently it amounts to 0.01% of GDP of those countries. There will be other cases still unsettled, so more money will come in. And of course these figures only includes the direct revenues collected as the result of investigations. There are also likely to be additional revenue resulting from broader behaviour changes by taxpayers and from policy changes brought in the wake of the scandal.

Continue reading ‘How much money has been recovered as a result of the Panama Papers?’

In response to joint statement on trans-solidarity on behalf of feminists for fiscal justice, tax and economic policies.

Dear Kate, Chiara, David, Liz, Fariya, Caroline, Neelanaja, Yamini, Ana, and Roosje

We all agree that no one should have their right to liberty, security or life violated by violence. People should not face discrimination in access to healthcare, work or housing because of the way they dress, because they have a health condition, because they may have had plastic surgery or take medication or because they believe, or disbelieve, in the idea of innate gender identity. 

But I disagree with your statement that the class of people with the type of body that has the capacity* to produce ova and to gestate a foetus does not need a name, nor any analysis or political movement, or specific protection for their rights. 

I still find it flabbergasting that this is promoted and accepted (by some) as a feminist idea.

I am talking about the half of the population who will menstruate, and therefore need access to privacy and sanitation in order to complete school and to travel beyond their homes, who need access to contraception and abortion, healthcare in pregnancy and birth, support and accommodation for breastfeeding.  This is the class of people who are most often victims of sexual assault, which is carried out in the vast majority of cases by people with the other type of body (and which brings with it risk of pregnancy). 

People with this type of body are on average, and at the extremes, less strong, less fast and smaller than the other type of human and thus face specific risks, have different capacities in relation to sport and need (but often do not get) specific consideration in design of safety equipment and medicine.

In lower income countries children with this type of body are less likely to complete primary or secondary education, and with each year of education missed they are more likely to give birth while still children themselves. Early childbearing, higher total fertility and lower educational attainment reduce their earning power, and this in turn affects their power and voice within households.

Around the world this class of people undertake the majority work in raising children. Their working lives outside the home and their financial welfare are disproportionately impacted by parenthood and care. Historically they have been considered second class citizens; wards of their father and then of their husband, not fully legally or financially autonomous.  If they do not or cannot fulfil this social role they face censure that is specific to people with this body type.  In some countries they are still legally excluded from passing citizenship on to their children, from driving, from inheriting property. They are restricted by religious codes and by laws. Here is a map of when they got the right to vote.


As feminists you say that this class of people no longer needs a  name?

You say that we should ignore the ““biological” sex binary” because it “bears no relation to gendered patterns of economic, social and political exclusion”.

You say that there is no need for an analysis which focuses on the specific risks and issues that affect the half the world that has this type of body, (and their relation with the other half) because you say any such analysis “bears no relation to modern scientific understandings of the expression of sexual differentiation”.

I find these statements impossible to agree with (and I find it hard to believe that you really believe in them).

Why are you discarding the evidence of the masses of studies (including by your own organisations) which look at binary, sex differentiated data and find that people with the ova-producing type of body are disadvantaged in society, and have different outcomes from those with the sperm producing type of body – in education, employment, crime, health, access to finance, economic welfare? Why are you discarding analysis which considers the power structures that have developed to secure paternity by controlling the lives of people with the ova-producing types of body? Why is it not important to notice that people with the sperm producing type of bodies remain disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of politics, business, government, religion and every institution of power, and people with the ova-producing type of bodies are disproportionately represented in the low-paid jobs of cleaning, catering and care?

Without words or analysis how can we talk about this?  How is it feminist not to talk about this? I think you have given away too much in the name of solidarity.

[* If all things are working  -none of this excludes from this sex category people with this body type who have disorders of sexual development, or who are infertile, or have had organs removed, or who are pre-pubescent or post-menopausal]

Arve Ofstad was the Norwegian Ambassador to Zambia from 2011 to 2016. He has written an article titled Misleading Numbers on Capital Flight” in the business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv about the often repeated myth of billion dollar illicit financial flows from Zambia through mispricing of copper exports.  Here is my (Google assisted) translation of his article.

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The caption reads: “Gross export revenue from the mining sector, which is relatively expensive to operate in Zambia, has varied around six to seven billion USD a year. No one has been able to explain how two-three and maybe four billion dollars could disappear annually from an economy of this size”

Continue reading ‘Misleading Numbers About Illicit Financial Flows: The Former Norwegian Ambassador to Zambia speaks up’

Following the series of stories emerging from the ‘Paradise Papers’ has been like unpacking a Christmas stocking. While each individual item may be underwhelming in itself, the overall effect is designed to be thrilling.

The ICIJ say that the parade of cases that they have profiled are ones that ‘expose significant failures and weaknesses inside the offshore industry’. But as we unpack the stocking of stories, there are many that seem to be there simply because of the glitter and shine of the names involved. The Queen invested $7.5 million in a Cayman Fund. Prince Charles invested in forest conservation through a Bermuda based carbon credits start-up. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge invested tens of millions offshore. Madonna, Bono, Shakira and Nicole Kidman are amongst the celebrity names, while Harvey Weinstein, Martha Stewart, people connected to Donald Trump are handy villains.

Many have jumped to the conclusion that the Paradise Papers reveals massive tax avoidance and evasion by the rich and powerful, and complicity by offshore actors. In the UK, Margaret Hodge called an emergency debate in Parliament and argued that “the paradise papers reveals the enormity and scale of the problem”, speaking of “ill-gotten gains of tax dodging”.  But it is not all that surprising that details of the assets of international businesses and celebrities are found in the files of a major offshore law firm.

Rasmus Christensen and Jeremy Cape both highlight the risk of bundling legal and illegal behaviour together and jumping to rash politically satisfying responses, rather than undertaking deliberated, effective reform where they are needed.  Rasmus argues that we risk eliding the very bad with the not-so-bad. But in fact the risk is worse than this. We risk bundling the socially useful, the very bad and the not so bad.

Continue reading ‘Making sense of the paradise papers’

Tartan laundry bag

What does CBCR information exchange have in common with a tartan laundry bag?

Action 13 of Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), calls for multinational groups with revenues over 750 million Euros, to produce a ‘country by country report’ (CBCR) detailing their profits earned and taxes paid, in each country of operation. The aims is for revenue authorities to use this information as a risk assessment tool to direct their audit attention. As Pascal St Amans, at the OECD put it

“tax administrations will be able to identify very clearly, in a single document, whether or not they “smell a rat,” such as where, for example, you have all your profits in a zero tax jurisdiction where you have no sales, no employees and no assets”

To date 102 countries and jurisdictions have joined the BEPS Inclusive Framework, and are at various stages of establishing domestic legal frameworks, as well as bilateral agreements to automatically exchange the reports with other revenue authorities. Ultimately this means that some 10,000 bilateral relationships will need to be established. But not all of these linkages are equally important – the critical information flows will be between countries where multinational groups are headquartered and those where their subsidiaries are.

So who is exchanging with whom?

Continue reading ‘Country by Country Reports: Who is Exchanging with Whom?’

Reprinted with permission from Tax Journal. (PDF version) 

800X800_Vanish_TwitterReckitt Benckiser (RB), maker of household products from condoms to stain removers, is the latest company to come under fire for tax avoidance. Oxfam published a report on 13 July, saying the company has been ‘making tax vanish’ by shifting profits to its regional hubs in the Netherlands and Dubai. The company refutes this, saying that its group structure is designed to serve its worldwide markets most effectively. RB highlights that in 2016 the group’s overall effective tax rate was 23%, putting it in the middle of the pack amongst its peers. Furthermore, it has published tax principles which commit the company to ‘paying tax where value is created’.

If we are to move beyond this familiar cycle of criticism and rebuttal towards clearer debate, we need to take both sides of the argument seriously. Continue reading ‘Reckitt Benckiser: Profits vanishing?’

In the Guardian yesterday  said that Africa loses more than three times the amount it gets in aid “mainly by multinational companies deliberately misreporting the value of their imports or exports to reduce tax”.

This statement is not true, but it is a reasonable summary of what a report called ‘Honest Accounts‘, which was published last month, says.

Under the heading ‘Corporations stealing wealth’ it states that $68 billion was stolen from Africa in illicit financial flows, and that multinational companies are stealing $48.2 billion alone through ‘trade misinvoicing’ (the figure they give for aid is $19.1; which excludes concessional loans). They then bundle these figures together with other flows in and out (loans, FDI, profits etc…)  to come up with this total.

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I don’t always write about every exaggerated or misunderstood figure on multinational tax avoidance that I see. It gets a bit repetitive. I didn’t write about the Honest Accounts report , but I did send a note (see below) to its authors Mark Curtis  and Tim Jones at Jubilee Debt Campaign and to Nick Dearden at Global Justice Now  to let them know that they had misunderstood and therefore misrepresented the estimates of illicit financial flows it used.

But none of them responded.

The problem is that it is not just Mark, Tim and Nick who should understand why their interpretation was misleading . As with the yesterday’s Guardian article, the misunderstandings get picked up and repeated.  And now I feel bad because I should have explained the issues more publicly and clearly at the time,  and not allowed the great big arrows to be left lying around, for others to trip over. So at the risk of being repetitive, here is  the problem with ‘Honest Accounts’ interpretation of illicit financial flows:

  • There are big problems with the methodology behind the illicit financial flows estimates. They are mainly based on gaps and mismatches in trade data, which can often be generated by ordinary trade patterns through hubs such as Singapore and Amsterdam.
  • The same methodology also generates even larger apparent illicit inflows (which Honest Accounts ignores). This encourages the idea that there must be unfeasibly large hidden margins in natural resources and that multinationals are systematically stealing from developing countries.
  • Global Financial Integrity (GFI) the organisation that developed the illicit flows estimes themselves do not say that they represent stolen money.
  • Nor do they say that that they can identify trade between related entities (i.e. within multinational corporations).
  • It is not accurate to say that ‘misinvoicing’ is the same as ‘mispricing’, as often what the data is picking up are large apparent differences in the quantity of goods reported between pairs of countries. This (if it reflects actual smuggling rather than ordinary trade would not be manipulation of transfer prices, but outright customs fraud.

Negotiating natural resource contracts, developing  fiscal regimes and ensuring that taxes are collected fairly are real challenges for resource-rich developing countries. This is made more difficult by the repetition of misunderstandings .  Such rhetoric makes it harder for the public to judge whether deals balance risk and revenue for all parties,  and can undermine trust in the important work of revenue authorities and minerals monitoring agencies.  The current dispute in Tanzania illustrates why this matters.



Email notes

May 23

Dear Nick, Mark, Tim,

I am disappointed to see the ‘Honest Accounts‘ report resurrected without any improvement to the original analysis, to get beyond the ‘big numbers’ to the underlying issues.
As I wrote to Natalie Sharples at the time of the first report, adding together and netting all these flows off together is fairly meaningless, and the illicit flows estimates are misunderstood and misrepresented.
e.g. P2 $68 billion is taken out in capital flight, mainly by multinational companies deliberately misreporting the value of their imports or exports to reduce tax
– this is a misunderstanding of GFI’s study of trade misinvoicing (which they don’t attribute to multinational companies… http://www.gfintegrity.org/issue/trade-misinvoicing/)
P 4 “The $68 billion stolen from Africa in illicit financial flows amounts to around 6.1% of the continent’s entire GDP. Multinational companies are stealing $48.2 billion alone through ‘trade misinvoicing’, according to figures produced by Global Financial Integrity. Previous research by the UN Economic Commission for Africa found similar figures – that multinational companies stole around $40 billion a year from African countries through trade misinvoicing in the decade up to 2010.
Estimates of illicit financial flows are not accurately described as ‘stolen’ (from who?). In fact GFI estimate $69bn of illicit outflows from Africa and $81 billion of illicit financial inflows (which you would not describe as ‘stolen’ from richer countries).
P9. “$67.6 billion Net resource transfers (balance of outflows and inflows) from sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in the form of trade misinvoicing  by multinational companies,
This is a mistake. As mentioned above GFI do not net illicit inflows and outflows, but if they did the result would be $12bn of illicit inflows to Africa http://www.gfintegrity.org/press-release/new-study-illicit-financial-flows-in-developing-countries-large-and-persistent/

P10 : Endnote 2  & 15 “This is a practice known as trade misinvoicing (sometimes also called trade mispricing”) –

This is a misunderstanding trade misinvoicing is a much broader category than trade mispricing (i.e it is like saying ‘fruit, sometimes also called apple’). The illicit flows estimates include discrepancies of quantity & destination which appear to be larger than price differentials (see http://www.cgdev.org/blog/gaps-trade-data-criminal-money-laundering)

Some of the issues that the report raises such as illegal logging, fishing and the cost of adapting to climate change are significant, but adding together all apparent inflows and outflows is meaningless. The money in/money out lens looks at economies as static buckets into which resources pour in, and leak out, rather than as dynamic systems in which people learn, invest, adopt technology, manage institutions etc…. (which may be related to the ‘leaks’ but not necessarily).


May 25


From your Aljazeera article:
“Some of this is direct, such as $68bn in mainly dodged taxes. Essentially multinational corporations “steal” much of this – legally – by pretending they are really generating their wealth in tax havens “
This is a misunderstanding on multiple levels – GFI’s estimate is not “mainly dodged taxes” – it is a gross figure. Nor is it legal tax avoidance by multinationals. The activities it seeks to measure are customs fraud, misdeclaration and pure smuggling these activities would be illegal, not legal.

Yesterday the Guardian reported that Labour plans clampdown on ‘sweetheart deals’ to close £36bn tax gap

“Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said if Labour wins the next general election it would “close the loopholes through which large corporations swindle the public”. He said the “tax gap” between what companies should be paying and what is actually received by the exchequer amounts to some £36bn.”

Sounds credible, right?  Big companies. Big issue… £36 billion is a fairly big number (around a third of the NHS budget). No one wants to be swindled by loophole jumping tax dodgers making sweetheart deals.

But hold up. Corporation tax raises around £44 billion in the UK (some 7% of overall government revenues). Is John McDonnell really saying companies are dodging almost half of what they should be paying?

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[Chart adapted from IFS, also see national statistics]

Well no. Describing £36bn as “the difference between what companies should be paying and what is actually received” is the Guardian’s mistake.

If you look at the original press release the £36 billion figure does appear but the wording is somewhat more careful: “The “tax gap” between the tax is collected and the tax expected is estimated by HMRC to stand at £36bn.”

This is true. £36 billion is HMRC’s ‘tax gap’ estimate. But just like corporation tax only makes up a small proportion of overall UK tax revenues, corporate tax avoidance only makes up a small proportion of the enforcement gap. Around £3.7 billion relates to corporation tax, suggesting that companies overall are paying 8% less than they should.

It can be argued that this official tax gap estimate does not include the forms of corporate tax avoidance that McDonnell’s policy is concerned with. As HMRC explains it “does not include international tax arrangements that cannot be challenged under the UK law, including some forms of base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS).” But then why does McDonnell attach this particular number to his policy proposals at all?

Is it a good idea to make big companies publish their tax returns in the name of the disinfectant of sunlight? I don’t think so. (Even some members of the tax justice movement who are much more bullish on public tax disclosure think its a bad idea).

If a newspaper can make such a mess of understanding one basic number, just imagine the mess they could make of thousands of pages of tax returns.

Describing arrangements that cannot be challenged by UK law as swindling, loopholes, scams and a chronic lack of enforcement is Kafkaesque. If we don’t think the current laws give good outcomes we should change the law, not conflate compliance with fraud, or attach big random numbers to it.

The potential damage is not just to the reputation of big corporations, who may not demand much sympathy, but to confidence and trust in the tax system and to the quality of public understanding and debate about public policy.

[With thanks to Dan Neidle and Iain Campbell ]

This article appeared in Tax Analysts  (Pdf to download)

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 19.00.01Starting this year, large multinational companies will file their first country-by-country (CbC) reports with information on sales, profits, number of employees, and taxes paid for their entities in each jurisdiction where they operate. Businesses are also increasingly recognizing that tax is a reputational issue and are publishing tax policy commitments . These include promises to pay tax where value is created, ensure their structure is aligned with commercial functions, and refrain from creating contrived or artificial transactions.

However, criticisms and exposés of alleged tax avoidance continue to make headlines. Many civil society organizations, including Eurodad, Transparency International (EU), Action Aid, Christian Aid, Oxfam, the Tax Justice Network, and the Financial Transparency Coalition, as well as some politicians and the European Commission argue that the solution is for companies to publish CbC information publicly, so that citizens can see for themselves what tax multinationals pay. They hope that putting these numbers in the public domain will lead to more informed debate and enhance democratic accountability, ultimately improving effectiveness and trust in the tax system. The commission argues that public CbC reporting would deter companies from ‘‘engaging in tax planning strategies that are not in line with their corporate responsibilities and which consumers, investors and broader civil society find unacceptable.’’ On the other hand, some tax professionals fear that public CbC reporting would lead to a cacophony of accusations, misunderstandings, and rebuttals — fueling further public mistrust. They argue that revenue authorities determine tax bills using voluminous rules and detailed tax returns submitted confidentially. They contend that a few headline indicators are inadequate to allow members of the public to second-guess the basis of these calculations.

This is not a debate that must remain purely hypothetical. Continue reading ‘The Zara Report: What can we learn about public country by country reporting?’

(This article is republished with permission from Tax Journal – download it as a pdf)

Starting this year large companies operating in the UK are required to publish an annual statement explaining their tax strategy. The new rules apply to UK companies, partnerships and groups with a turnover above £200m or a balance sheet over £2bn. It will also apply to the UK operations of multinationals, where the group is large enough to be covered by the OECD country by country reporting rules (i.e. has a global turnover of more than €750m). Companies will not be required to publish evidence that the strategy is being applied; however, if their returns appear to be inconsistent with what they say in their strategy, this will raise a red flag for HMRC when it reviews risk.

Many of the biggest UK companies already publish something on their approach to tax, as part of their annual report, corporate responsibility or sustainability report, or in a free-standing statement. Nearly two thirds of the FTSE 100 publish something. Declarations range from haikus to epics.

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How useful are tax strategy statements?

Marks & Spencer take a boiled down approach at half a page: ‘We take our responsibility to pay our fair share of tax seriously and our approach is in keeping with our long standing values and aligned to our shareholders’ interests.’ Others offer a bit more detail. A few companies, such as Anglo American, SABMiller (now part ofAnheuser-Busch InBev), Unilever and Vodafone, produce epics. Continue reading ‘Publishing Corporate Tax Strategies’