The government of Antigua has begun criminal inquiries into large payments discovered in Isle of Man bank accounts controlled by Antiguan politicians.
Disclosure of these Caribbean corruption inquiries comes at an unwelcome time for the Isle of Man, described by the chancellor, Alastair Darling, as "a tax haven sitting in the Irish Sea". The island is under review by the UK government, which subsidises its low-tax regime.
According to documents seen by the Guardian, HSBC bank, in the Isle of Man, accepted $3.2m (£2.3m) on behalf of Asot Michael, once chief of staff to the former Antigua prime minister Lester Bird.
The Bank of Bermuda refused to handle a similar account and filed a "suspicious activity report" before the further account was opened on the Isle of Man, according to investigators’ reports
Another $1.4m in total was paid into HSBC Manx accounts belonging to a former Antiguan high commissioner in London, Sir Ronald Sanders.
All deny the allegations, I should add, including HSBC.
But the money was there. And why was it there? It does not look good for the Isle of Man which, of course, issues regular protestations on its financial cleanliness.
It would, of course be much easier to find if only the Isle of man stopped acting as a tax haven and required that financial and legal data concerning all entities incorporated there was put on public record for all to see. It refuses to do so – making it a secrecy jurisdiction.
As the Guardian also notes:
Banks are facilitating international corruption by doing business with the world’s dictators, according to a report today by an anti-corruption campaign group. Global Witness calls for banks to work harder to turn away business from individuals who pose a corruption risk. It also demands an end to tax haven "secrecy jurisdictions", saying: "The most important change is to ensure that every country produces full public online registers of the ultimate beneficial ownership of all companies and trusts."
Banks named in the report include Barclays, who the campaign group says kept open an account for the son of the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, despite evidence of looting of oil revenues. Barclays declined to comment because of client confidentiality. Other banks "hid behind bank secrecy laws" to frustrate US inquiries, the report says.
Banks are also alleged to have facilitated the activities of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, now on trial at The Hague for war crimes. A German bank is alleged to have assisted the late president of Turkmenistan to keep gas revenues under his personal control.
Dozens of other international banks are accused of providing oil-backed loans to the state oil company of Angola, which has been accused of corruption and secret arms deals.
Gavin Hayman, campaigns director of Global Witness, said: "The same lax regulation that created the credit crunch has let some of the world’s biggest banks facilitate the looting of natural resource wealth from poor countries.
"Government must take responsibility to stop banks doing business with corrupt dictators and their families."
I agree with Gavin.
I’ll link to that report as soon as I can.