Notes from Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens by Nicholas Shaxson:
* Over half of world trade passes, at least on paper, through tax havens. Over half of all bank assets, and a third of foreign direct investment by multinational corporations, are routed offshore.
* The offshore world is not a bunch of independent states exercising their sovereign rights to set their laws and tax systems as they see fit. It is a set of networks of influence controlled by the world’s major powers, notably Britain, the United States, and some jurisdictions in Europe. Each network is deeply interconnected with, and warmly welcomes offshore business from, the others. Wealthy U.S. individuals and corporations use the British spiderweb extensively: Enron, for example, had 881 offshore subsidiaries before it went bust, of which 692 were in the Cayman Islands, 119 in the Turks and Caicos, 43 in Mauritius, and 8 in Bermuda, all in the British spiderweb. The United States returns the favor to wealthy British interests investing tax-free, in secrecy, via Wall Street. Not only that, but the world’s most important tax havens in their own right are not exotic palm-fringed islands but some of the world’s most powerful countries themselves.
* The story about the origins of Swiss bank secrecy is no more than an appealing fiction. The argument about it being set up to protect Jewish money first appeared in the November 1966 Bulletin of today’s Credit Suisse. It wasn’t true. The reason bank secrecy was strengthened in 1934 was a scandal two years earlier when the Basler Handelsbank was caught in flagrante facilitating tax evasion by members of French high society, among them two bishops, several generals, and the owners of Le Figaro and Le Matin newspapers. Before that, there was professional secrecy (such as exists between doctors and their patients), and violation of this secrecy was a civil offense, not a criminal one as it is today. The law had nothing to do with protecting Jewish secrets.