THE huge leak of documents revealing how corporations and the ultra-rich use offshore bank accounts to avoid tax has renewed calls from Christian tax campaigners for a more transparent system.
The Paradise Papers, millions of documents that have been reviewed by a hundred media organisations around the world, were mostly leaked from Appleby, a law firm based in Bermuda.
High-profile names who have been linked to the documents and the offshore finance methods within them include the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and the Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton. The Guardian reported last week that the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and nearly half of all their colleges, had invested in offshore funds.
The media organisations that have been reporting on the leaks have been careful not to accuse any organisation or individual of illegal activity. But the revelations have provoked strong criticism from tax campaigners.
Christian Aid said: “After yet more shocking revelations about tax avoidance games, we demand transparency now.
“The kind of schemes revealed are indicative of the games being played by companies and rich people across the globe to avoid meeting their financial and moral responsibilities to the rest of society. The losers in these games are all too frequently people living in some of the poorest countries in the world who lose billions of dollars that might otherwise be invested in education or health services or the infrastructure required to support their own development.”
Christian Aid’s head of economic development, Toby Quantrill, said that the Government must establish public registers of everyone who benefited from ownership of companies in overseas territories and Crown dependencies, many of which were among the main tax haven. New rules should also be drawn up to force British firms to report all taxes that they paid in each country they work in.
“Measures already instigated by the OECD, the G20, and under discussion in the EU are positive — but do not go far enough. There remain huge loopholes which continue to be exploited.”
The Methodist Tax Justice Network said that the leak showed once again the necessity for a “total reformation of the way the world’s wealth is monitored”.
The chairman of the network, the Revd David Haslam, said that rich companies and individuals were able to dodge tax only because the tax havens that they used, many of them UK-controlled, offered secrecy. “Those involved are accounting and legal geniuses but moral criminals. They rob the poor of the world of the funds needed for schools, hospitals, and other public services.
“These papers show paradise for the few but poverty for many. The current global financial system is an insult to all faith communities.”
Closer to home, long-time anti-poverty campaigner and former priest the Revd Paul Nicolson has used the Paradise Papers publicity to question Haringey Council about its private property development partner, Lend Lease, which has assets domiciled in the Channel Island of Jersey, often used as a tax haven.
In a Freedom of Information request, he asked what inquiries the council had made into where the profits made by Lend Lease from council properties and development went.
Comment: Turn up the heat on tax havens