What is a secrecy jurisdiction?

The Tax Justice Network prefers the term ‘secrecy jurisdiction’ although we sometimes use it interchangeably with the term ‘tax haven’ – depending on which aspect we want to emphasise. For the Financial Secrecy Index we generally prefer to use secrecy jurisdiction. We sometimes use the term ‘offshore financial centre’ too.

There is no generally agreed definition of what tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions are: the phenomenon has many different aspects and no single definition can capture them all. For the purposes of the index, we employ the following working definition:

A secrecy jurisdiction provides facilities that enable people or entities escape or undermine the laws, rules and regulations of other jurisdictions elsewhere, using secrecy as a prime tool.

For a more detailed exploration of the themes, see an article we published in Economic Geography, as well as a book chapter written by Markus Meinzer, and Richard Murphy’s Finding the Secrecy World.

A ranking of jurisdictions by secrecy score is provided on the right.

The Financial Secrecy Index focuses on secrecy (escape from disclosure) but these jurisdictions also often offer escape from tax, from financial regulation, from criminal laws, from corporate governance rules, from inheritance rules, and more. The offshore system is an interconnected ecosystem of different jurisdictions offering different mixes of these escape facilities and the various different flavours of secrecy.

We have also found that secrecy jurisdictions tend to be captured states, where offshore financial services tend to be deliberately ring-fenced and insulated from domestic political opposition. Relevant laws and approaches to the industry are created by small numbers of professional insiders in the jurisdiction in collaboration with offshore financial services interests from elsewhere, with the civil service often providing little more than a rubber-stamping service. Most of our narrative reports for the larger secrecy jurisdictions find the captured state phenomenon to be relevant, as does the Tax Justice Network’s research into the Finance Curse.

The business model of these places is the product of two apparently conflicting offerings or incentives to international owners of financial capital. The first is to convince them that the jurisdiction is safe, trustworthy, and law-abiding. The second is to convince many of them that they will tolerate and protect law-breaking dirty money or abusive behaviour. Crudely put, the offshore offering is a message to the world's capital that "we will not steal your money, but we will turn a blind eye if you've stolen someone else's."

This perspective helps explain the apparent paradox that jurisdictions such as Switzerland or the UK are regularly ranked among the so-called cleanest and least corrupt in international corruption rankings – while also harbouring oceans of dirty money.

Geography: the five groupings

Consider first how many rich Nigerians are likely to stash their wealth in Zurich – and then consider how many rich Swiss are likely to stash their wealth in Lagos. The answer is obvious. Secret capital almost always flows from poor to rich countries: overwhelmingly, the secrecy jurisdictions are located in rich countries. We loosely describe five main groupings (click on the countries to access their special reports outlining the histories and political economy of their offshore sectors.

  • TheUnited States is a major secrecy jurisdiction in its own right. It has a couple of minor satellites: not just the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, for instance, but also Panama.
  • The United Kingdomalso has a central role in the system and is arguably the most important player of all: it has responsibility for many of the biggest satellite secrecy jurisdictions, including the Cayman IslandsJerseythe British Virgin Islands, and Bermuda.
  • A third, continental European poleis also highly significant, and includes LuxembourgGermanyBelgiumAustria, Cyprus, and Gibraltar inside the European Union. Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and Andorra are also key European players that are geographically inside Europe, but outside the European Union itself.
  • Outside the orbit of the OECD countries,Asian havens – notably Singapore and Hong Kong but also Macao and Malaysia/Labuan – are another fast-rising aspect of the problem, though still relatively small when compared to some of the offshore giants noted above.
  • A few uncategorised others, exist which are not obviously in the orbit of any particular power block. These include Dubai and Mauritius (both of which have strong Asian links, but are heavily used by Africans and others).

See also the Politics of Secrecy for further insights into what the offshore system is.

 

 


 

Ranking by secrecy score only

Our main index is created by mathematically combining a secrecy score with a weighting. This ranking, however, strips out the weighting component and ranks jurisdictions by their secrecy score alone.

Commercial users must purchase a licence to use this data. Click here for more information.

 

RankScoreJurisdiction
1   80MV   Maldives
2   80AO   Angola
3   80DZ   Algeria
4   79BO   Bolivia
5   78JO   Jordan
6   78BN   Brunei
7   78LR   Liberia
8   78AI   Anguilla
9   78AE   United Arab Emirates
10   78TC   Turks and Caicos Islands
11   77PY   Paraguay
12   77QA   Qatar
13   76VU   Vanuatu
14   76AG   Antigua and Barbuda
15   76KY   Cayman Islands
16   76KE   Kenya
17   75BS   Bahamas
18   75KN   St. Kitts and Nevis
19   75LI   Liechtenstein
20   75GM   Gambia
21   75CW   Curacao
22   75WS   Samoa
23   75MS   Montserrat
24   74VN   Vietnam
25   74CH   Switzerland
26   74BB   Barbados
27   74BZ   Belize
28   74VI   US Virgin Islands
29   74DM   Dominica
30   74GT   Guatemala
31   73AW   Aruba
32   73TH   Thailand
33   73PR   Puerto Rico
34   73BM   Bermuda
35   73BD   Bangladesh
36   72LK   Sri Lanka
37   72PA   Panama
38   72MU   Mauritius
39   71CM   Cameroon
40   71EG   Egypt
41   71VG   British Virgin Islands
42   71LC   St. Lucia
43   71TZ   Tanzania
44   71GG   Guernsey
45   71KW   Kuwait
46   71GD   Grenada
47   70SC   Seychelles
48   70CK   Cook Islands
49   70MC   Monaco
50   70NG   Nigeria
51   70MH   Marshall Islands
52   70MY   Malaysia
53   69GI   Gibraltar
54   69VE   Venezuela
55   68MA   Morocco
56   67NL   Netherlands
57   67SA   Saudi Arabia
58   66TN   Tunisia
59   66HK   Hong Kong
60   66VC   St. Vincent and the Grenadines
61   66JE   Jersey
62   66TW   Taiwan
63   65MO   Macao
64   65SG   Singapore
65   65UA   Ukraine
66   65IM   Isle of Man
67   65TT   Trinidad and Tobago
68   64KZ   Kazakhstan
69   64SV   El Salvador
70   64MK   North Macedonia
71   64LB   Lebanon
72   63RW   Rwanda
73   63US   United States
74   63JP   Japan
75   63PH   Philippines
76   63RO   Romania
77   62BH   Bahrain
78   62CR   Costa Rica
79   62BW   Botswana
80   62MT   Malta
81   62KR   South Korea
82   61CY   Cyprus
83   60SM   San Marino
84   60ME   Montenegro
85   60NR   Nauru
86   60CN   China
87   60TR   Turkey
88   59NZ   New Zealand
89   59LV   Latvia
90   59DO   Dominican Republic
91   59IL   Israel
92   58AD   Andorra
93   57IS   Iceland
94   57RU   Russia
95   57UY   Uruguay
96   57PE   Peru
97   57AT   Austria
98   56CO   Colombia
99   56ZA   South Africa
100   56CA   Canada
101   56CL   Chile
102   56PL   Poland
103   55LU   Luxembourg
104   55CZ   Czechia
105   55HR   Croatia
106   55PK   Pakistan
107   55AR   Argentina
108   54PT   Portugal
109   54HU   Hungary
110   53MX   Mexico
111   52FI   Finland
112   52DE   Germany
113   52GH   Ghana
114   52BR   Brazil
115   51GR   Greece
116   51ID   Indonesia
117   51SK   Slovakia
118   50IT   Italy
119   50LT   Lithuania
120   50AU   Australia
121   50FR   France
122   49BG   Bulgaria
123   48IE   Ireland
124   48IN   India
125   47EC   Ecuador
126   46GB   United Kingdom
127   46SE   Sweden
128   45DK   Denmark
129   45BE   Belgium
130   44NO   Norway
131   44ES   Spain
132   43EE   Estonia
133   38SI   Slovenia