The Panama Papers - Tax dodgers threaten our way of life

YESTERDAY’S co-ordinated publication by more than 100 news organisations of the Panama Papers confirmed that there is one law for the rich and powerful but another, far less accommodating one, for the rest of us. 

The papers confirmed that there are more than enough professionals — bankers, lawyers, accountants or auditors — only too happy to play their sleazy part in this latest scandal to underline the urgent need for enforceable transnational tax transparency and concerted action to end this professionally endorsed theft.

That the publication comes as the aggressive tax minimisation of international corporations is highlighted suggests nation states face an unprecedented challenge to their legitimacy and capacity to provide life-sustaining social services.

That Anglo Irish Bank’s branch in Austria was recommended by Mossack Fonseca, the firm at the centre of the scandal, begs a question — how much, if any, of the €30bn-plus the State injected into Anglo was a consequence of this? The 11.5m leaked records show how a global conspiracy of legal firms and banks offers, at a price, financial secrecy. The oligarchs and the tycoons may be the main players but the unprincipled professionals are the essential foot soldiers. The publication also reminds us how very few Irish professionals paid a price for their part in our banking collapse or the scandal of the below-standard building.

The services the offshore industry offers are legal if used by law-abiding individuals. However, the papers show that offshore players regularly fail to ensure their clients are not involved in crime, tax dodging or political corruption. The papers show that major banks are happy to create hard-to-trace companies to keep clients’ finances off-radar. Thousands of these disappearing-act accounts were created by UBS or HSBC. There may be legitimate reasons to use these services but the effort required to keep funds out of the public eye is so great that suspicions must be aroused.

Giving an initial response to the papers’ publication, Minister Richard Bruton said anything that fell under Irish jurisdiction would be investigated. He also assured us that we had an excellent record on these issues. It is possible, though unlikely, Mr Bruton is unaware of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate report that said the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation is “struggling to manage the volume of suspicious financial transaction reports forwarded to them”. The GSI also found that divisions are investigating serious fraud without always having the necessary skills to do so. In this context Mr Bruton’s assurances cannot carry much if any weight. It seems unlikely therefore that any Irish citizen featured in the Panama Papers need lose too much sleep waiting for the knock on the door.

In recent days it was suggested that around 300 people died in this country last year because the health services did not have the resources to help them. The white-collar crime described in the Panama Papers contributes to this. Extensive tax evasion represents a threat to our way of life on a par with the attacks seen in Brussels two weeks ago. It is really that serious and should be confronted with the same force.

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