We've seen countless examples of politicians using bank accounts in secrecy jurisdictions to hide stolen assets. Former Nigerian leader Sani Abacha chose the UK, Jersey, and France, while Ukraine's Victor Yanukovych seemed to prefer Switzerland and Austria. The new automatic exchange system would compile lots of information that could seriously advance investigations of corruption and state embezzlement, and help stop the looting before it's too late. Picking up the pieces from large-scale state embezzlement is a process that takes years and it's greatly hindered by a lack of access to information.
But there's one problem concerning this new glut of information: corruption will be off limits.
Instead of letting governments use the information to track and investigate corruption, the financial information exchanged will only be available for tax-related matters and shared between each country's "competent authorities". The restriction on using this information for corruption is puzzling and has to be revisited.
Where do we go from here?
Pointing out the shortcomings of a new system is only half of the equation. It's just as important to point out the solutions, too. If you'd like to read more about the G20/OECD automatic exchange system, and what can be done to improve it, check out Christian Aid's report Information for the Nations. You can also view this infographic on why a temporary period of non-reciprocity is vital to ensure developing countries are included in the system.
Reworking the current framework is key, but it makes more sense for global standards to actually be set in global forums, which is why we think the UN should upgrade the United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters to a universal intergovernmental body. This would give it the political and financial backing necessary to lend itself to the global standard setting process. We advocated for its creation in July at the 3rd Financing for Development Conference. Though the tax body wasn't part of the final outcome, the issue of ensuring that all countries have a seat at the table isn't going anywhere. You can learn more about financial transparency, illicit financial flows, and the secrecy that helps keep the system running here.
To find out more about this project, learn about how we developed our data and graphics, or get in touch, please visit our About the Project page.