Norway said on Tuesday 11 September that it will lead an international working group investigating the role of secretive tax havens in hiding development aid stolen by corrupt officials. Development Aid Minister Erik Solheim said:
If we can contribute to stopping the illegal flow of money out of developing countries it could have enormous consequences for those countries
Solheim said an estimated US$1-1.6 billion in illegal funds crosses international borders each year, often ending up in secret bank accounts in countries that refuse to reveal information about account holders. He added:
We cannot just focus on corruption internally in developing countries, but also on the extent to which rich countries contribute to hiding criminal acts and corruption. The biggest problem with tax havens is their lack of openness.
The project follows up on a Norwegian initiative in December 2006 to help developing countries right the problem of corruption and graft at home. The oil-rich Nordic country of 4.7 million people prides itself on being the world's most generous foreign aid donor per capita, giving nearly one percent of its Gross Domestic Product.
Solheim said Norway was asked to lead a pilot project on the role of tax havens during a meeting in Seoul this month of countries seeking to stop the theft of foreign aid. His spokesman, Hilde Klemetsdal, said Spain, France and Chile have so far joined the group, with others expected to participate, as will financial institutions, activists and researchers.