Countries are losing a total of $483 billion in tax a year to global tax abuse committed by multinational corporations and wealthy individuals. That’s enough to fully vaccinate the global population against Covid-19 more than three times over.
These tax losses are particularly damaging to lower income countries, which lose the equivalent of nearly half of their combined public health budgets every year to global tax abuse. Of the $483 billion in tax lost a year, over a third, $171 billion, is lost to offshore tax evasion by wealthy individuals. This is made possible by financial secrecy.
Beyond enabling tax abuse, financial secrecy enables dirty money to be laundered, in turn enabling corruption, the evasion of sanctions, organised crime, drug cartels, terrorism and human trafficking. All countries have a responsibility to reduce their contribution to financial secrecy, big or small.
The Financial Secrecy Index thoroughly evaluates each jurisdiction’s financial and legal systems to help identify the jurisdictions most responsible for enabling financial secrecy, and to highlight the laws and loopholes that policymakers can curb financial secrecy.
Key issues highlighted by the index in 2022
Financial secrecy continues to shrink globally despite G7 subversion
The 2022 edition of the Tax Justice Network’s biennial Financial Secrecy Index sees some of the world’s biggest economies climb up the ranking. The US dramatically expanded the gulf between itself and the rest of the world by enabling the biggest supply of financial secrecy ever recorded by the index – nearly twice as much as the second biggest supplier currently on the index, Switzerland.
The global total of financial secrecy supplied by countries has continued to shrink. The Financial Secrecy Index observed a 2 per cent reduction in total financial secrecy, following a 7 per cent reduction in 2020. The reduction means less room for the type of practices that have come under scrutiny as countries attempt to enforce sanctions on Russian oligarchs – such as banking secrecy, anonymous ownership of real estate and the use of trusts to move wealth beyond the reach of the law.
The index identifies this progress to be primarily driven by more countries adopting or improving beneficial ownership registration laws – which require the identification and registration of the real individual, made of flesh and blood, who ultimately owns, controls or benefits from a company or legal vehicle – and by more countries, particularly lower income countries, improving international cooperation on anti-money laundering efforts, information exchange, treaties and judicial cooperation.
But the recent global curbing of financial secrecy was offset by more than half by just five of the G7 countries whose finance ministers are expected to recommit this week to enforcing sanctions on Russian oligarch’s hidden assets. When excluding the increases in financial secrecy from the US, UK, Germany, Japan and Italy, the Financial Secrecy Index 2022 finds that global financial secrecy actually shrunk by 5 per cent. However, the five G7 countries collectively increased their supplies of financial secrecy by enough to minimise the 5 per cent global reduction in financial secrecy down to 2 per cent – effectively leaving Russian oligarchs as well as tax evaders, money launderers and corrupt politicians around the world more room to manoeuvre and hide their assets.
The US topped the index after it increased its supply of financial secrecy to the world by almost a third (31 per cent) since 2020, resulting in the largest supply of financial secrecy ever measured by the index. The US’s supply of financial secrecy is now nearly twice as large as that of second-placed Switzerland. The increase is partly driven by the US worsening its secrecy score from 63 to 67 out of a 100, mostly by again failing to meet international standards and practice on information exchange with other countries. Countries that have still not met these international standards – some of which have been in place for over a decade – were more harshly graded in the 2022 edition of the index. The increase is also driven by the US increasing the volume of financial services it provides to non-residents by 21 per cent.
The US now fuels more global financial secrecy than Switzerland, Cayman and Bermuda combined. In a separate study published in November 2021, the Tax Justice Network reported that the US is responsible for costing the rest of the world $20 billion in lost tax a year by enabling non-residents to hide their finances and evade tax.
Germany increased its supply of financial secrecy to the world by over a third (36 per cent) following a worsening in its secrecy score from 52 to 57 out of a 100 and a 11 per cent increase in the volume of financial services it provides to non-residents. Germany’s secrecy score deterioration is primarily due to the underwhelming implementation of new transparency laws the country passed in the run up to the 2020 edition of the Financial Secrecy Index. The new laws requiring beneficial owners of companies, trusts and partnerships to register their information saw Germany drop out of the top 10 on the index for the first time in 2020. However, restrictions put in place since the 2020 edition of the index hindering public access to information collected under the new laws has pushed Germany back into the top 10, where it now ranks 7th.
Italy increased its supply of financial secrecy by over a third (37 per cent) following a worsening in its secrecy score from 50 to 55 out of a 100 and a 19 per cent increase in the volume of financial services it provides to non-residents. As a result, Italy leaped 20 places up the ranking from 41st to 21st. Italy’s secrecy score deterioration is primarily due to the implementation of beneficial ownership laws being halted and legal ownership information becoming less accessible to the public. Italy also failed to keep up with more robust criteria used by the 2022 edition of index to assess standards for tax rulings publication and tax treatment of investment income particularly among non-domiciled residents.
Japan increased its supply of financial secrecy to the world by 10 per cent after increasing the volume of financial services it provides to non-residents by 28 per cent. Japan’s secrecy score marginally worsened from 62.9 to 63.1 out of 100. Japan moved up the ranking from 7th to 6th, however, this shift was due to Cayman dropping from the top of the ranking.
The UK increased its supply of financial secrecy to the world by 2 per cent despite the volume of financial services it provides to the non-residents shrinking by 11 per cent. The UK secrecy score worsened from 46 to 47 out of 100 following a greater emphasis put on transparency of court judgments by the index. The UK does not currently publish all First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal judgements. Despite the escalation of financial secrecy, the UK dropped from 12th to 13th in the ranking after both Germany and China climbed sharply up the ranking and overtook the UK on their way.