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Leading economists lobby world leaders over 'inequality' of tax havens

Published 09/05/2016

Oxfam has co-ordinated a letter from top economists protecting at the existence of tax havens
Oxfam has co-ordinated a letter from top economists protecting at the existence of tax havens

A group of 300 economists - including best-selling inequality expert Thomas Piketty - have written to world leaders warning there is no economic justification for tax havens.

Signatories also include Angus Deaton, the Edinburgh-born 2015 Nobel Prize-winner for economics, as well as Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang.

It comes ahead of the Government's anti-corruption summit in London on Thursday, which politicians from 40 countries as well as World Bank and IMF representatives are expected to attend.

The letter, co-ordinated by charity Oxfam, says: "We urge you to use this month's anti-corruption summit in London to make significant moves towards ending the era of tax havens. The existence of tax havens does not add to overall global wealth or well-being; they serve no useful economic purpose.

"Whilst these jurisdictions undoubtedly benefit some rich individuals and multinational corporations, this benefit is at the expense of others, and they therefore serve to increase inequality."

They claim that poorer countries are hit the hardest by tax dodging, losing out on 170 billion US dollars (£117 billion) a year as a result.

The group, which includes 47 professors from British universities including Oxford and the London School of Economics, urged governments to "lift the veil of secrecy surrounding tax havens", and singled out the UK in particular.

"We need new global agreements on issues such as public country by country reporting, including for tax havens. Governments must also put their own houses in order by ensuring that all the territories, for which they are responsible, make publicly available information about the real 'beneficial' owners of company and trusts.

"The UK, as host for this summit and as a country that has sovereignty over around a third of the world's tax havens, is uniquely placed to take a lead."

Oxfam said that more than half of the companies set up by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm in the Panama Papers leak, were incorporated in British Overseas Territories such as the British Virgin Islands.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and an adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said: "Tax havens do not just happen. The British Virgin Islands did not become a tax and secrecy haven through its own efforts.

"These havens are the deliberate choice of major governments, especially the United Kingdom and the United States, in partnership with major financial, accounting, and legal institutions that move the money. The abuses are not only shocking, but staring us directly in the face."

Development charity One called on world leaders to adopt a "fair play standard" - encompassing public registers of company ownership, disclosure of tax payers, transparency in government procurement and tighter rules to make it harder to hide corrupt assets - at the London summit, to tackle a problem which the group estimates costs developing countries one trillion US dollars (almost £700 billion) a year.

One's deputy chief executive Adrian Lovett said: "One and our seven million members around the world want leaders gathering in London to call time on this trillion dollar scandal.

"The secrecy surrounding the ownership of companies and trusts provides a convenient cloak for the corrupt, and people in developing countries pay the price as vital revenues that could help fight poverty are lost.

"Leaders at this important summit need to adopt new standards of financial openness and drag this illicit activity out into the open."

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