Monday Reads: Hidden Loot in today’s Treasure Islands

The Opening up of Pandora’s box, Frederick Stuart Church, 1885

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I’m going to go down a rabbit hole today on findings by journalists on a trove of leaked financial information that shows the financial dealings of current and former world leaders in terms of hiding the loot in the world’s Treasure Islands.

Offshore banking has always frustrated many governments in trying to deal with how the rich and powerful hide wealth. This is from The Guardian on what’s being called the Pandora Papers.  There’s an accompanying podcast if you’d rather learn about this important trove of leaked offshore papers.  These leaks follow the Panama and Paradise papers leaks.

The financial secrets of some of the world’s most rich and powerful people are revealed following one of the biggest leaks of offshore data. The Pandora papers include 35 current and former world leaders and more than 300 public officials.

The Guardian’s Paul Lewis tells Michael Safi how the project came about and the months of work his investigations team has put into the publication. It is the latest offshore leak following previous global journalistic collaborations on the Panama papers and the Paradise papers.

The Guardian’s deputy business editor, Juliette Garside,explains how former British colonial territories have in recent decades used their legal jurisdictions to attract companies and wealthy individuals to register with them as tax havens.

The editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, tells Michael that there is a clear public interest in publishing this latest investigation and revealing the secrets of prominent politicians at a time when many governments are raising taxes to fund pandemic recovery efforts.

‘Pandora’s Box’ by Rene Magritte 1951

The Washington Post reports the names and country affiliations of those caught in the leak.  It includes Putin and many of his minions, the President of Kenya, and the King of Jordan.   Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis was also caught up in the investigations. This is the lede: “Governments launch investigations after secret papers show how elite shield riches.”  The link is constantly updated with new revelations and responses.

Here’s what we know from our collective reporting

  • The files in the Pandora Papers detail the activities of nearly 29,000 offshore accounts.
  • Among them are more than 130 people listed as billionaires by Forbes magazine. U.S. states have become central to the global offshore system.
  • Leaders of countries on five continents use the offshore system, as well as 14 current heads of state or government.
  • Officials in Pakistan, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Australia and Panama are set to launch inquiries in the wake of the Pandora Papers revelations.
pandora

Pandora, c. 1914 (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Odilon Redon

There are short profiles of many of the leaders/elite and their offshore financial activities at the WAPO link.  There are also several good links to basics on offshore banking and the small countries around the world that sponsor this very dark corner of the financial sector.

I’ve written about offshore “treasure islands” before as it tickles just about all my Nancy Drew and Financial Economist/Banker fancies.  My last post came in 2016 when the Panama Papers were leaked.   These leaks do pop up but the dynamics of the system are linked to political and political funding elites. It’s hard to get countries to move on the tax evaders and the public treasury looters.  As you can see from the names, many are either doing this or getting money from those who use offshore banking.

CNN analysts believe the Jordan, Pakistan and, Russia releases are most significant.   Former UK PM Tony Blair has also been named in the release.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie Blair, avoided paying £312,000 ($423,000) in stamp duty — a tax on property purchases — when they bought a townhouse in London, the BBC reported. The building now houses Cherie Blair’s law firm.

The Blairs purchased the townhouse in 2017 by buying the offshore firm that owned the property. When the property was put up for sale, its ultimate owners were a family with political connections in Bahrain, according to the BBC.

The Blairs set up a UK company to purchase the offshore firm. Doing so was legal, but it allowed them to avoid paying stamp duty, according to the BBC, because the tax is not charged when a company owning a property is acquired.

“It is not unusual for a commercial office building to be held in a corporate vehicle or for vendors of such property not to want to dispose of the property separately,” Cherie Blair told the BBC.

Cherie Blair also said her husband’s only involvement in the transaction was that the mortgage for the property used their joint income and capital, according to the BBC.

“All the arrangements were made for the express purpose of bringing the company and the building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime, where it has remained ever since. All taxes have been paid ever since and all accounts openly filed in accordance with the law,” Cherie Blair said, according to The Guardian.

It may not be illegal but it certainly sounds and appears dodgy.  The real shocking thing is that these kinds of enterprises are setting up in the United States.  Notice this little financial firm harkens from South Dakota a state that lured Citibank with its lax banking laws back in the good ol’ days.  WAPO has just put up a more current analysis of the overall use of offshore banking.  “FOREIGN MONEY SECRETLY FLOODS U.S. TAX-HAVENS. SOME OF IT IS TAINTED.”

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Across from a Holiday Inn, in a red-brick building with a welcome sign that reads “The Heart of America,” a little-known financial firm set up shop seven years ago and extended an invitation to the world’s elite.

Trident Trust promised to protect the fortunes and privacy of its new customers by relying on the laws of a state that had become a global destination for wealth. The company called it “The South Dakota Advantage.”

Among those who answered the call: a Colombian textile magnate caught in a scheme to launder the proceeds of an international drug ring, an orange juice mogul who settled with authorities in Brazil for allegedly colluding to underpay local farmers, and family members of the former president of a sugar producer in the Dominican Republic that has been accused of exploiting laborers and forcibly evicting families from their homes.

The U.S. government has long condemned prominent offshore financial centers, where liberal rules and guarantees of discretion have drawn oligarchs, business tycoons and politicians.

But a burgeoning American trust industry is increasingly sheltering the assets of international millionaires and billionaires by promising levels of protection and secrecy that rival or surpass those offered in overseas tax havens. That shield, which is near-absolute, has insulated the industry from meaningful oversight and allowed it to forge new footholds in U.S. states.

Paging Senator Elizabeth Warren!  Clean-up in Aisle South Dakota!  And of course, Delaware is also one of the usual suspects too.  Just ask Senator MBNA (aka President Joe Biden).

The trust documents come mostly from the Sioux Falls office of Trident Trust, a global provider of offshore services. In a written statement, Trident said it is committed to compliance with all applicable regulations and routinely cooperates with authorities. The company declined to answer questions about its clients.

Other states competing to lure wealth include Alaska, Delaware, Nevada and New Hampshire. In South Dakota, assets in trusts more than quadrupled over the past decade to $360 billion. One of the largest trust companies in the state, the South Dakota Trust Co., boasts a roster of international clients from 54 countries.

The industry’s rapid expansion was led by a group of trust company insiders, who year after year pitched legislative proposals that were highly appealing to customers in the United States and abroad: protecting trusts from creditors, from taxing authorities, from foreign governments.

With little opposition, state legislators turned the proposals into laws — dozens since the late 1990s.

So, not only are we giving these folks lower tax bills than their house staff and employees, we’re letting them dodge even more tax liabilities by just traveling to the usual suspect states.

You may read the original work in the tweet directly above.  It’s going to be a week of global intrigue!  So, hang on to your best James Bond Villian impression.  Mine will continue to be Vladimir Putin who set up a mistress and child to live like  Marie Antoinette.

The Debt Ceiling is still in the news too!

Either of these stories could rock the US and Global financial markets!  So, I’ll be watching!  C’mon Joe!  Don’t make me sell the US short to finance my senior days!

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) This painting was featured in the movie of that name. It plagiarizes the early metaphysical style of Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978)

Biden did take McConnell to school today. This is from the LA Times.

President Biden on Monday criticized Republicans for not voting to raise the debt ceiling, accusing them of being “reckless and dangerous” in a way that could harm the economy.

“Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job, they’re threatening to use [the filibuster] to prevent us from doing our job — saving the economy from a catastrophic event,” Biden said during a speech at the White House.

The Democrat-controlled House last week passed legislation that temporarily suspends the debt ceiling. Senate Republicans, however, have said they will not vote to approve such a measure. Biden said the Republicans’ stance is “hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.”

“Especially as we’re clawing our way out of this pandemic,” Biden said.

Once the Treasury Department runs out of cash, payments to government workers, including military personnel, veterans and Social Security recipients would likely be delayed. A default would also affect taxpayers.

“Savings in your pocketbook could be directly impacted by this Republican stunt,” Biden said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen previously said the department would run out of “emergency measures” to pay the nation’s debts on Oct. 18. The limit on federal borrowing is currently $28.4 trillion.

McConnell told Biden to find a Democratic Party-based solution in a Dear Joe letter. So, there’s your countdown to doomsday.  This is from Politico.

“I respectfully submit that it is time for you to engage directly with congressional Democrats on this matter,” McConnell told Biden in his letter, a copy of which POLITICO obtained. “Your lieutenants in Congress must understand that you do not want your unified Democratic government to sleepwalk toward an avoidable catastrophe when they have had nearly three months’ notice to do their job.”

The letter, delivered to the White House on Monday, also cites Biden’s past opposition to debt increases while in the minority. McConnell summarized it this way: “The president’s party had to take responsibility for a policy agenda which you opposed. Your view then is our view now.”

So, Republicans continue to obfuscate the debt ceiling.  It’s basically got to be increased because of the last 4 years and all years before.  There’s very little Biden spending to this point and his budget is not even in effect at this point.

Don’t let your eyes glaze over on this stuff!  This is a shit list of how they’re stealing from us!

What’s on your reading and global intrigue list today?