«At the twilight of the British Empire, bankers, lawyers and accountants from the City of London set up a spider’s web of offshore secrecy jurisdictions that captured wealth from across the globe and funnelled it to London.»
This on-screen statement opens Michael Oswald’s powerful and accessible film.
Voice-over images of the decline and end of the British Empire – troops and native police beating back crowds of demonstrators; tanks on exercises, a human skull mounted on the hull of one – enunciate the film’s timely thesis.
«As British elites saw their wealth, privileges and empire disintegrate, they began to search for a new role in a changing world and they found one: in finance.»
«This is a film about how Britain transformed from a colonial power to a modern financial power and how this transformation has shaped the world we live in,» the narration continues.
From this firm foundation, the film employs an array of experts in offshore tax havens, banking and accountancy to detail the degree to which the British elite – and its political servants in parliament – has created a system of shocking inequity that is today complicit in many of the world’s global ills.
The Eurodollar market
Post-Imperial decline and a run on the pound prompted the creation of a system of double accounting that allowed the City of London to become the leading centre for international financial transactions.
This was done via a system called the Eurodollar market, which lead directly to the establishment of offshore tax havens.
«The British Empire had sunk, leaving hardly a trace behind, but the City of London had adapted and survived.»
The sophisticated development of an ancient Anglo-Saxon system of secret trusts to hide the owner of assets through a web of complex legal relationships, shell companies and delegates, is neatly summed up by tax fairness campaigner Alex Cobham of the Tax Justice Network :
«It’s about providing a legal space in which you pretend is not taking place in the economy where it really is taking place – so you are taking activity from the place from where it is regulated and taxed and pretending that it is happening elsewhere.»
A parallel development is directly linked to the recent revelations in the Panama Papers: The creation of the so-called ‘Secrecy Jurisdictions’ where fly-blown islands that remained among Britain’s Overseas Territories – such as the Cayman Islands – began to be used by smart British lawyers and bankers as legally tax-exempt locations in which companies could establish branches or make use of shell companies.
The creation of «bone-fide tax havens»
As author and former FT journalist Nicholas Shaxson – whose book Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World (2011) was an early shot in the campaign to lift the secrecy cloaking international finance – observes:
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