Leaders of the G8 major economies have agreed new measures to tackle the lack of transparency associated with offshore tax havens.
They include sharing access to information on their residents’ tax affairs and forcing shell companies — often used to exploit investment loopholes — to identify their real owners.
The BBC reports the measures are designed to combat illegal evasion of taxes, as well as legal tax avoidance by large corporations that make use of loopholes and tax havens.
The move, in part, follows a massive reporting project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — dubbed Offshore Leaks — on the role of offshore tax havens in the global economy.
EU Commissioner Algirdas Semeta said the Offshore Leaks investigation by ICIJ and its partners had transformed tax politics and amplified political will to tackle the problem of tax evasion.
“I personally think Offshore Leaks could be identified as the most significant trigger behind these developments … It has created visibility of the issue and it has triggered political recognition of the amplitude of the problem”, he told EU Observer.
The BBC reported the G8 leaders agreed that multinationals should tell all tax authorities about what taxes they pay and where.
“Countries should change rules that let companies shift their profits across borders to avoid taxes,” the communique said.
It follows separate revelations about the ways in which several major firms — including Google, Apple, Starbucks and Amazon — have minimized their tax bills.
Illegal activities, including tax evasion and money laundering, will be tackled by the automated sharing of tax information.
The BBC reported that ahead of the summit, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), proposed to share tax information by building on an existing system set up by the US and five major European economies, but on a global scale.
“This international tax tool is going to be a real feature of ensuring that we get proper tax payment and proper tax justice in our world,” said the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who claimed that it meant “those who want to evade taxes have nowhere to hide”.
The OECD includes all of the G8 members except Russia.
Among the information to be shared will be who actually ultimately benefits from the shadowy shell companies, special purpose companies and trust arrangements often employed by tax evaders and money launderers.
Earlier in the day, the British Chancellor George Osborne unveiled plans for a UK central register of companies and their true owners. But the G8 communique did not contain a firm pledge from other G8 countries to create similar company registries and to make them public, as transparency advocates had sought.
On Saturday, ICIJ published the Offshore Leaks Database which partially opens up for the first time the company registries of 10 offshore jurisdictions. The data, which include information on more than 100,000 offshore companies, is part of a leak of 2.5 million secret files to ICIJ.
Last week the UK also unveiled a deal with its crown dependencies and overseas territories — including the Channel Islands, Gibraltar and Anguilla — to start sharing more information on which foreign companies bank their profits there.
Speaking during the summit, Mr Osborne said more progress had been made on reforming the global tax system in the past 24 hours than the “past 24 years”.
However those campaigning again tax evasion said the G8 had not gone far enough.
Porter McConnell, manager of the Financial Transparency Coalition, said: ”People in rich and poor nations alike are looking to their leaders to resist vested interests and pursue policies that tackle corruption and rampant tax dodging. Today G8 leaders have taken some significant steps in an effort to make the rules of the global economy fair for everyone.
“But it is troubling that there is no G8-wide agreement on the introduction of beneficial owner registries, let alone that they be made public. Over the past several months, crimes that rely on financial secrecy, such as tax evasion, money laundering and trafficking, have become front-page news. Illicit finance is one of the most pressing issues of our time: it’s robbing citizens of developing countries and G8 countries alike.”
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