Panama Papers: City of London Is ‘Beating Heart’ of Tax Cheats Empire


teleSUR – TRANSCEND Media Service

In an exclusive interview with teleSUR, filmmaker and journalist Mark Donne says British tax avoidance policies amount to a second British Empire.

The sun sets behind the Cutty Sark and the City of London. | Photo: Reuters

The sun sets behind the Cutty Sark and the City of London. | Photo: Reuters

6 Apr 2016 – The beating heart of the tax avoidance practice and industry is the city of London, Mark Donne, director of the award-winning documentary “UK Gold,” told teleSUR in light of the recent Panama Papers scandal, emphasizing that the practice has cost the Global South trillions of dollars in plundered resources and wealth.

“You really have to think of the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and all those territories as branches, nothing more than just branches,” Donne told teleSUR in an interview Monday [4 Apr].

“They are only physical spaces because there has to be a physical territory where one can register an activity which is not really going on. What needs to be discussed is the city of London.”

In order to put the practice in perspective and highlight the significant and essential role of the U.K. and the City of London, Donne stressed that the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama is just one law firm among many, underlining the fact that it doesn’t even make it to the list of top 10 companies supporting the proliferation of tax havens.

“To illustrate the scale of what this global problem is: if you look at the top 10 tax avoidance law firms in the planet, Mossack Fonseca is not in the… (top) 10. Every single one of the top tax haven law firms are headquartered in London or headquartered in a U.K. overseas territory.”

The former journalist further highlighted how owners of these massive law firms are themselves part of the political establishment and elite in the country.

Maples and Calder, the biggest tax avoidance law firm in the world, according to Donne, was set up by John Mabels, the late vice chairman of the conservative party in the U.K.

“Those people have effectively run the second British Empire for the past 30 years. And the cost, particularly for the Global South as well as for the U.K. and other countries too, is phenomenal,” he said.

For decades, successive British governments have allowed the practice to not only exist but flourish, said Donne, who recalled how in 2013 British Prime Minister David Cameron pulled a huge media stunt by calling all the heads of Britain’s overseas territories to London for the G20 summit, announcing that he would make them sign a deal to crack down on tax avoidance.

Media outlets in the country and abroad saw that as a breakthrough while in reality there has been no deal and no clampdown on the practice.

“There is no deal,” the head of the Cayman Islands told reporters after returning from the G20 summit that year, according to Donne.

British tax avoidance policies have effectively replaced the colonial plundering of resources in Latin America, Africa and Asia and were implemented following the decline of the British Empire in order to meet the challenge of rising Western powers such as the United States and Germany, argues Donne.

“My way of thinking is if you look at some of the things the British Empire achieved and some of the planning when the U.K. was a colonial power when it went around plundering resources in Asia, Latin America and Africa, what the U.K. managed to do in the 1960s with its overseas territories when the empire was in decline was just as skillful as those colossal robberies of the past.”

While being skeptical of any change after the Panama Papers leak, Donne nevertheless called it a “historic moment because of the amount of the information,” pointing out that “all media outlets are being forced to report on this at one particular time.”

However, the reality is that “despite all the media coverage and despite all the public debate, we are seeing no meaningful repatriation of funds from tax havens to sovereign countries,” Donne added.

The tax avoidance practice will continue to take a financial and political toll on countries in the Global South, with Donne emphasizing the numerous mining conglomerates headquartered in London which are performing no material work in the city but avoiding the payment of taxes in their home countries.

“For every pound that Africa receives in aid it loses three pounds in tax avoidance” through British-based tax havens, said Donne.

Over the past few decades, the practice of tax avoidance has taken over every aspect of life in the United Kingdom, even the media, added Donne.

Even those media outlets reporting on the issue “such as News UK and the Murdoch empire have more than 192 shell companies in tax havens,” Donne said, as he laughed at the irony of the situation. “The messengers that are telling you the story are absolutely using tax avoidance.”

“It permeates British elite culture. It permeates British economic culture. It is absolutely ridiculous,” he concluded.

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