EU mulls tougher stand on tax dodgers

April 5, 2013 at 5:21 PM
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BRUSSELS, April 5 (UPI) -- The European Union's promise of a vigorous crackdown on tax dodgers in the aftermath of an unpopular Cyprus bailout is unlikely to stem the outflow of capital from the West's interconnected financial networks to areas still beyond easy reach of European law.

Germany was among the first European governments to hail the release of leaked documents purporting to show how offshore banking havens are used by tax dodgers to shield funds from the taxman.

However, most tax havens exposed in the leak by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists are within the wider jurisdiction of Western governments.

Analysts say many more banking havens that are beyond the West's reach are yet to be accessed, and that's where much of the capital flight could be headed.

ICIJ collaborated with The Guardian and the BBC in Britain, Le Monde in France, Suddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, The Washington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and 31 other news organizations to analyze data from 2.5 million documents related to more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts.

Although impressive, the global picture of money laundering and tax avoidance revealed as a result is by no means complete and enterprising financiers are already at work in locations in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which are protected by lack of connectivity.

In the same way that the 2008-09 financial crisis was least felt in countries that had low connectivity to international markets, banks that are out of the loop are most likely to benefit from the flight of capital from Europe and exposed tax havens.

Indian banks recently expanded branches in known tax havens and more transactions are headed to Seychelles, east of the African mainland in the Indian Ocean, and Vanuatu in the Pacific.

In the Cyprus crisis that led to levies on bank deposits, funds belonging to influential individuals were siphoned away in advance of the EU-Cyprus bailout deal. The Cyprus rescue terms spread alarm across Europe and unspecified sums have moved out of the EU members through circuitous routes to new destinations.

The ICIJ revelations mean more funds will be moved out of the marked havens into destinations that will be harder to pinpoint.

The rise of alternatives to the U.S. dollar, particularly the Chinese yuan, has opened new possibilities for financial havens that are practically impenetrable from the West.

Banking operations in Central Asia, although nominally within the Russian sphere, have been opaque for decades.

Financial centers in Dubai, Tehran, Karachi, Mumbai and Nairobi are used to conduct dense discretionary operations that cannot easily be regulated. The Asian and African regions also have a thriving barter trade that makes movement of cash extremely hard to monitor.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said fighting tax evasion was an "endlessly laborious" work, and called for more joint EU action against tax evasion.

In the Cypriot banking crisis Germany attacked the Cypriot offshore banking model but said little about tax havens in mainland Europe, including Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.

German pressure for Swiss transparency contrasts with relatively soft approach toward former Soviet bloc countries of the European Union's eastern flank, a growth area for organized crime.

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