Monbiot on the Pinstripe Pirates

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George Monbiot has hit the tax haven theme in the Guardian today:

If you want to know why Britain has never completed the process of decolonisation, look at two lists side by side. One is the official register of tax havens, compiled by the OECD. The other is the list of British overseas territories and crown dependencies. Over a quarter of the world's tax havens are British property. More than half of Britain's colonial territories and dependencies are tax havens. Strip out Antarctica, the military bases and the scarcely habited rocks and atolls and, of the 11 remaining properties, only the Falkland Islands is not a recognised haven. The obvious conclusion is that Britain retains these colonies for one purpose: to help banks, corporations and the ultra-rich to avoid tax.

In his usual style he adds:

Last month the British government announced that it will introduce new laws to prevent piracy: the armed forces will be allowed to detain ships and arrest suspected robbers on the high seas. Yet the same government offers an attractive portfolio of tropical and temperate islands in which pinstriped pirates can bury their treasure. That comparison is unfair - to pirates. The freebooters who use these havens are responsible for thousands of times more deaths even than the notorious Abdul Hassan, known on the Somali coast as "the one who never sleeps".

And to reinforce my opinion that Gordon Brown bears an enormous responsibility for this:

Gordon Brown wrings his hands over the plight of the poor, and urges impoverished countries to earn more money through trade. But by keeping our tax havens open for business, this mumbling Christian hypocrite ensures that even when the poor nations do trade successfully, they are unable to keep hold of the income.

True. And he predicts there will be little change:

There is a standard British procedure for dealing with problems like this - by which I mean problems that generate bad publicity but which you don't want to address. You commission a review and you choose the right man to conduct it. Confronted with a vocal international campaign and a new US president determined to tackle this issue, the government has selected a man called Michael Foot (not the former Labour leader).

Until last year, Foot was the inspector of banks and trust companies for the Central Bank of the Bahamas in Bermuda, a British tax haven. Though the review was launched only a fortnight ago, he already seems to have decided what it will say. Speaking about tax havens to the magazine Accountancy Age, he claimed that they had been given a clean bill of health by the IMF, and observed, "I can't see where the regulation failure is supposed to be." The Tax Justice Network maintains that throughout his long career in Bermuda, at the Financial Services Authority and elsewhere, he has never raised any public concerns about systemic problems in the financial sector. The identity of the person the government appoints is an index to the outcome it desires. Foot sounds like just the man for the job.

I hope he's wrong.

But if he isn't, let's be clear: we've laid the groundwork now for saying so. And we will.