The vexed question of whether country-by-country (CBC) reports on multinational companies’ tax affairs should be put into the public domain has been a sticking point in debates on responsible tax practice for years.
CGD Policy Blogs
The Proposed SDG Indicator on Illicit Financial Flows Risks Conflating Ordinary Business and Dirty Money
“Illicit financial flows” means dirty money crossing borders. It is an umbrella term which covers diverse actors including organised crime groups, business people making bribes, political leaders engaging in grand corruption, and major tax evaders hiding undeclared wealth. What they all have in common is that what they are doing is illegal (although they may be getting away with it), and they often use opaque international networks of legal entities, bank accounts, and property holdings to facilitate and store ill-gotten gains. There is a clear development case for rich countries to act to prevent their financial systems being used as havens for illicit financial flows that harm developing countries.
The SDGs include a target to “significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organised crime”. However, there is no globally agreed upon definition for “illicit financial flows.” My new CGD paper looks at why there is so much disagreement and confusion over this term.
How Illicit Finance Controls Can Make It Harder for Nonprofits to Serve the World’s Neediest —and What to Do about It
A growing number of humanitarian aid organizations operating in conflict zones are having trouble finding banks willing to work with them. We attended an international stakeholder dialogue on ensuring financial services for nonprofit organizations, and offer our preliminary thoughts here.
Policies put in place to counter financial crimes have unfortunately had a chilling effect on banks’ willingness to do business in markets perceived to be risky—due in part to the high price of compliance. Even as changes are being made to address this problem, financial institutions are developing solutions in the form of new cutting-edge technologies to help them comply better and faster with anti-money laundering regulations.
If transparency in debates around matters of natural resource wealth, then so too does the way that figures get translated into public debates. Earlier this month the Lusaka Times published a claim that multinational mining companies were “robbing Zambia of an estimated $3billion annually through tax evasion and illicit financial flows.” I have written about the Zambia Copper Billions before. I don’t think the figure is at all credible, and I am not the only one. Organisations that have allowed this myth to spread have not done any favours to the people of Zambia, and they have a responsibility to put it right.
You might remember the UNCTAD report on trade misinvoicing published last year which alleged that the majority of gold exports leave South Africa unreported. If not, you will more than likely have heard the billion dollar estimates of illicit financial flows as a source of resources for financing the SDGs. It is increasingly clear that these calculations, based on gaps and mismatches in trade are not reliable.
It is often stated that developing countries are “haemorrhaging billions of dollars” of tax revenues through companies abusing transfer pricing, in particular by mispricing commodities.There is no doubt that companies can take advantage of weak regulations and enforcement, but new studies based on microdata from revenue authorities suggest the scale of revenues that might be recovered is unlikely to match up to heightened popular expectations.
Misunderstandings about the scale of multinational tax avoidance are common. The origin story for an erroneous $1 trillion figure is a case of bad lip reading, but its proliferation reflects the belief that there are absolutely huge sums of money for development at stake from cracking down on multinational tax avoidance. The figure itself may be ridiculous but these myths are serious—they undermine both trust in revenue authorities and businesses, overheat disputes, and make it harder to judge practical progress on improving tax systems and compliance.
Criminal Finances: Should the UK Be Imposing Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership on Its Ex-Colonies?
A new Criminal Finances Bill is making its way through the UK House of Commons which aims to make it harder for criminals and kleptocrats to use the UK financial system to launder ill-gotten gains, while minimising the burden on legitimate businesses and individuals. The bill gives expanded powers to law enforcement agencies and makes banks and other businesses liable for prosecution if they fail to prevent facilitation of tax evasion. It also introduces ‘Unexplained Wealth Orders’ (UWOs). These would allow the authorities to demand explanations about any assets that appear suspicious. These measures should have both domestic and international benefits in tackling illicit financial flows.