In April 2016 a group of journalists exposed a huge cache of documents about offshore tax avoidance and evasion. These were called the Panama Papers. Now, we have another leak by the same journalists. Called the Pandora Papers, the Guardian trumpeted that:
The secret deals and hidden assets of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people have been revealed in the biggest trove of leaked offshore data in history.
The problem is – we’ve been here before. I wrote the article below on the day of the Panama Papers leak for a now-defunct website – hence I’m republishing it here. The name of the leak may have changed – but the result will stay the same; that is, to paraphrase Naomi Klein – ‘this changes nothing’.
The following article was originally written for Consented on 4 April 2016:
So, out of the blue this evening we had the biggest data leak in history revealed by the Guardian – the so-called “Panama Papers”.
2.6TB of information, 11.5 million documents, 214,488 companies involved, 14,153 clients all spanning more than 35 years – disclosing confidential details of how some of the world’s elite actively avoid tax, via offshore “havens” such as the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
The Guardian promised that the leaks would reveal “a world of hidden wealth”, exposing the “offshore pandemonium” that is tax havens, with “evidence of Russian banks providing slush funds for President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle; assets belonging to 12 country leaders, including the leaders of Iceland, Pakistan and Ukraine; companies connected to more than 140 senior politicians, their friends and relatives, and to some 22 people subject to sanctions for supporting regimes in North Korea, Syria, Russia and Zimbabwe; the proceeds of crimes, including Britain’s infamous Brink’s-Mat gold robbery; and enough art hidden in private collections to fill a public gallery”.
Shocking stuff. Kind of.
Anyone involved in politics, journalism or economics knows full well the scale of tax avoidance that quite legally goes on via these small islands in the middle of nowhere. Anyone with an open mind is aware of the practices that companies and individuals use to lessen their tax bill and increase their wealth.
But the fact that the mechanics of this have now been highlighted in such a stark way can, in some respects, only be a good thing. Most people are probably aware of the problem, but don’t allow it to seep into their consciousness just how deep the rot runs – or how much money is involved (over $1 trillion, by Global Financial Integrity’s estimates).
But the problem is – where does this leak go from here, what will be done with the information and will “we” allow business as usual to continue?
The Guardian is already giving us a pretty big hint. Screaming about “VLADIMIR PUTIN’S TIES TO MASSIVE OFFSHORE WEALTH!!!” and “REGIMES IN RUSSIA!!!”, while lauding the fact that “some world leaders are now taking a stand”, going on to name David Cameron and Barack Obama specifically – it appears to me crystal clear what will be revealed, and what will not.
Yes, Russia (for example) is as corrupt as hell – this is by no-means a surprise. Nor is the fact that former Prime Ministers of Iraq, Jordan and Qatar are named, along with the current President of Ukraine, the Kind of Saudi Arabia and the President of Argentina. It comes as little shock the Lord Ashcroft was named (I thought this was well-known), or Baroness Sharples – or even that David Cameron’s Father has been implicated.
In fact, none of the names “named” are really shocking – these are all avid supporters and middle-men for the corporatist system we live under. So a few reputations will look a bit shady for a while. Big deal.
This, as far as I can see, still will go no way to addressing the underlying problem – it’s not really individuals, but the system and the corporations at the top of it that need addressing.
Are Chevron going to be mauled, for example? The 16th biggest corporation worldwide, operating in 180 different countries, with assets of $266bn – who run a staggering 264 (yes – two hundred and sixty-four) different subsidiaries out of Bermuda, covering every country on the planet and more?
Are companies like Vanguard and BlackRock, two of the most notorious crony corporatist organisations on the planet, going to be forced to change their ways and stop investing in both sides of every war, industrial battle and exploitative profit-making exercise?
Will Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the first and third richest men on the planet, be called up for the fact that their companies actively avoid tax, while at the same time these individuals call for a Robin Hood Tax, and we all lap this shit up and believe their sincerity?
There are, according to research by a Swiss university, 43,000 companies the OECD defines as ‘transnational’. The majority of shares in these corporations are owned by the richest 1,318 of these 43,000. Of the 1,318 companies, 737 control 80 per cent of them and, at the very top, 147 control 40 per cent of the 737. Do we think that these 147 companies are going to stop serving the interests of a few individuals and start playing fair, even if the avenue of tax havens is partially closed-off?
People and companies can be exposed as much as we want. Names can be named. Corporations can claim to be trying to clean up their act. But the truth of the matter is that when you have a few companies and people controlling all of the worlds wealth, there is always going to be one thing at the forefront of their minds: greed.
To think that David Cameron and Barack Obama will do more than just tinker around the edges of this, as the Guardian seems to imply otherwise, is naïve in the extreme. Both countries whole economies rely on the kind of practices exposed in the Panama Papers for their stability.
Furthermore, to even think for one second that the Guardian (hypocritical in the extreme, when they themselves avoided tax not so long ago), and the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (who are funded by corporatists the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment, Kellogg’s and the Rockefellers – HT to Craig Murray for the quick work) are going to make any more of this than turn it into a propaganda exercise against the West’s cartoon, make-believe enemies, is deluded.
This will end up being just another exercise in conveniently apportioning blame at the doors of others, to attempt to counteract a growing swell of public disdain at the state of our current global financial system.
Corporatism is severely floundering. More people are waking up.
But, sadly, still not enough are – and the “Panama Papers” will be used as little more than a sleight of hand to continue to deceive the public as to who the real enemies, and architects of global inequality, are.
The ones right on our doorsteps.