As critics claimed that Thursday’s anti-corruption and tax evasion summit here did not go far enough, the event was shadowed by British Virgin Islands (BVI) – a tax haven that figured in the Panama Papers – refusing to join Britain’s beneficial ownership plans.
The summit, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, was called a year ago, but acquired new significance in the wake of the Panama Papers that details how the global rich store their wealth in tax havens such as BVI.
Notable absentees at the summit included BVI, Panama and FIFA, which have been at the centre of corruption or tax avoidance controversies. Activists of Oxfam held a demonstration outside Lancaster House, where the summit was held.
India was represented by chief vigilance commissioner K V Chowdary.
BVI’s premier and minster of finance D Orlando Smith said his country needed more guarantees that there would be appropriate levels of privacy before it could sign up to implementing a standard on beneficial ownership information exchange.
Smith said BVI had not been invited to the summit. He supported a new globally applied information exchange regime on beneficial ownership, as long as it was “equal and even in its application across the board.”
As some countries announced joining efforts on beneficial ownership, Barry Johnston, head of advocacy at ActionAid, said the summit will be remembered for what it will not achieve: “It’s good news that Nigeria, South Africa, France, Afghanistan and the Netherlands have used the summit to take action to publicly reveal the owners of secretive shell companies. David Cameron still hasn’t managed to get British overseas tax havens to meet the same standards”.
Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan president, said corruption in his country was enabler of political violence: “We have to have the courage to name the problem…We are asking you and all of Europe to go after drug money, we need very credible action because as long as the criminal economy persists, the networks, the actions we do (will not work)”.
Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said: “If corruption is a cancer (as Cameron called it), then this summit has delivered some pain relief but not the major surgery needed to heal the global economy”.
“Until tax havens are required to publish public registers showing who really profits from shell companies, the corruption and tax dodging revealed by the Panama Papers will continue undisturbed and millions of people in both the UK and the world’s poorest countries will pay the price”, he said.