John Christensen was a government economist living on the beautiful island of Jersey, off England’s southern coast, in a “hillside villa with views of France.” But that lifestyle ended after he spoke out on a fraudulent currency trading scheme involving a UBS subsidiary in Jersey, according to Bloomberg.
He said: “I was set. We had a pretty good lifestyle and plenty of friends.”
But he was forced to move to London as a result, where he now fights governments and campaigns against financial secrecy, including on his home island of Jersey.
He founded the Tax Justice Network in 2003 for the purposes of pushing greater regulation of tax havens. It’s estimated that $5 trillion to $32 trillion is currently stashed offshore for tax purposes – this is about a third of the entire global domestic product. Christensen thinks the number is at the “top end of that range”.
“We’ve won many of the intellectual and political arguments. And yet we’re not seeing it happen in practice. Look at where we are now. Rates of tax on capital have collapsed, inequality has gone through the roof and we’re now in a very dark place for democracy generally.”
But there’s some legitimate reasons to keep money offshore. Hedge funds and money managers often pool assets into Cayman Islands master funds to reduce costs. Offshore havens also sometimes offer protection against unstable political regimes. But their lack of transparency also makes them attractive to drug dealers, kleptocrats, and money launderers.
After the Panama Papers leaked, governments have been pressuring offshore tax havens to disclose more details. Regulators are starting to hone in on long-established locations, too. So now the tax adverse wealthy are seeking out mainland arrangements in places like Hong Kong, London and the U.S.
“Capital has moved literally lock, stock and barrel beyond the ability of nation-states to regulate tax. If you don’t have a good referee in a football game, neither team is any good and it becomes a free-for-all and everything deteriorates.”
Russia leads the way for offshore stashing, with 60% of the country’s GDP held offshore.