Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Panama Papers: Bear in the Woods

"Though the president’s name does not appear in any of the records, the data reveals a pattern – his friends have earned millions from deals that seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage. The documents suggest Putin’s family has benefited from this money – his friends’ fortunes appear his to spend." - Luke Harding - The Guardian [Source]

"The evidence for corruption at the Kremlin looks devastating, whereas Mr Cameron can fairly protest that the son is not responsible for the deeds of the father, especially not as he has taken some steps – such as banning the “bearer shares” that Cameron Sr’s fund long ago used – to protect the public interest." - Guardian editorial [Source]

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored" - Aldous Huxley

In what can only be described as a bike, car, train and plane crash of epic proportions, the global corporate media this month tried its hand at emulating WikiLeaks with the release of the Panama Papers:

The exposé of Panama-based Mossack Fonseca has been made possible by an unprecedented leak of more than 11 million documents to German investigative newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The leak came from an anonymous source and was then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which organised an investigation by news organisations around the world. The cache of documents includes emails, banking details and client records dating back 40 years and reveals the inner workings of a law firm famed for its secrecy.

No time was wasted in splashing pictures of Vladimir Putin all over the internet when the story first broke, despite the tiny problem that the Russian President is not actually mentioned in the documents. OffGuardian's Kit broke it down efficiently:

Luke Harding, a bastion of ethical journalism (and not at all a paranoid lunatic), has churned out 2 articles totaling over 5000 words, each using the word “Putin”, almost as often as they use the phrases “allegedly”, “speculation suggests”, “has been described as” and “may have been”.

Neither of his articles mentions by name any of the 12 world leaders, past and present, actually identified in the documents, nor do they mention David Cameron’s dad, who is also in there. No, they focus on a cellist friend of Putin’s, talk about his daughter’s marriage, and include an awful lot of diagrams with big arrows that point at pictures of...Vladimir Putin. This is, apparently, all evidence of...something.

...I’m not sure what, but it will probably be discussed at length in the “book” Luke Harding is probably planning to publish in a couple of weeks. That’s if the NSA don’t delete it all while he’s typing.

The only important, or even true, phrase Harding uses appears at the very top of this article:

"...the president’s name does not appear in any of the records..."


Indeed, the Guardian's decision to allow an alleged plagiarist and relentless critic of Russia like Luke Harding to write the first story, which condemns Putin for the crime of having a cellist friend mentioned in the documents, can mean only two things: that the Guardian's editorial staff are either indifferent to the desire of their readers for neutral, fact-based reporting...or simply incompetent. Or both. Whatever the reason, it was another slap in the face of its dwindling readership - an insult to the intelligence of those few readers who have not yet realised the tragic truth of the Guardian: a once proud newspaper now reduced to peddling weak propaganda for powerful Western interests.

The blanket smearing of Putin (and Assad) - both coincidentally current Western targets - with no direct evidence in the documents of wrongdoing on their parts was balanced on the US side by McClatchy Newspapers, who found four little-known Americans in the documents, all previously accused or convicted of financial crimes such as fraud and tax evasion.

Any reporting on this issue by corporate media has therefore been definitely proven as slanted and should henceforth be regarded as such. As correctly pointed out by WikiLeaks and others, full disclosure of the Panama Papers with a public, searchable database is the only way to actually call this a leak. As it stands, it is selectively exposed information that only tells us (apart from a few names) what we already know: that rich individuals and corporations everywhere are very often corrupt, and that they hide their money offshore.

The funding of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that has directed the reporting of this leak should also be a matter of concern to any observer familiar with recent history. ICIJ is funded by - among others - the George Soros-founded Open Society Foundations. This name crops up again and again when governments hostile to Washington are removed and replaced, a documented fact that instantly destroys the credibility of any ostensibly benign enterprise linked to him, with the modern US 'soft power' tactic of 'democracy promotion' long established and understood.

To the likely chagrin of those behind the selective reporting of the Panama Papers, the affair has backfired spectacularly, as the public quickly saw through the comically inept attempts to smear Putin and Assad and leapt on the information that has not been released. As many Western observers have justifiably pointed out: 'OK, so now we know there are some corrupt people in Russia and China - even though we already knew that. Now tell us about the ones in our own governments'. As a result, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and other senior members of the Conservative Party have been put under extreme public pressure to provide full disclosure on their own tax affairs after Cameron's father's name was exposed, with thousands of protestors descending on Downing Street this weekend to demand the PM's resignation.

Missing from much of the reporting and analysis is what we already know about tax havens:

An estimated $21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world. Illicit cross-border financial flows add up to an estimated $1-1.6 trillion each year. Since the 1970s African countries alone are estimated to have lost over $1 trillion in capital flight, dwarfing their current external debts of 'just' $190 billion and making Africa a major net creditor to the world. But those assets are in the hands of a few wealthy people, protected by offshore secrecy, while the debts are shouldered by broad African populations.

Yet rich countries suffer too: in the recent global financial crisis, European countries like Greece, Italy and Portugal have been brought to their knees by decades of secrecy and tax evasion.

A global industry has developed involving the world's biggest banks, law practices and accounting firms which not only provide secretive offshore structures to their tax- and law-dodging clients, but aggressively market them. 'Competition' between jurisdictions to provide secrecy facilities has, particularly since the era of financial globalisation took off in the 1980s, become a central feature of global financial markets.


More:

According to a (highly recommended) website dedicated to providing information on this issue, there are 18,857 companies registered at one address in the Cayman Islands and 217,000 registered to a '1209 North Orange Street, Wilmington, Delaware', including Coca Cola, Google, Verizon, KFC, American Airlines and GM. We also learn that 83 of the largest 100 US companies use tax havens, as do 98% of the companies registered on the London Stock Exchange.

Aside from the fact that tax havens enable the rich to hide money that they are legally obliged to pay for the vital public services that societies need to survive, they also ultimately force the poor to pick up the tab. Tax havens further enable financial criminals to hide their booty; corrupt leaders or dictators to plunder the resources of poor and/or developing nations; and also allow banks to dodge financial laws. They create a private world of unaccountable power for the very rich, enabling them to do as they wish as the rest of the planet's inhabitants slide deeper and deeper into inequality, poverty and suffering.

Tax havens are a key means of escape for the rich and powerful from the rules that bind ordinary citizens, from the law of the land(s) itself. They enable rich people and companies to avoid paying their fair share for the very infrastructure they depend upon for their financial success: the roads that transport their products, the courts that protect and uphold their contracts, the education systems that prepare their work forces and the health systems that keep staff healthy.

And the police forces that protect their premises and persons from protestors.


[Note: a short video on the US itself as a tax haven here]

If the auspiciously named ICIJ and their partner journalists were actually interested in excising this offshore cancer for want of a better world, they would be demanding that all corporations and officials in positions of significant influence publish their tax affairs for ICIJ or public examination. It would be releasing all the Panama Papers: at the very least to independent journalists for them to report on or at best in a public database. While taxes may be private for ordinary citizens who have no choice but to pay and no means to avoid them, when a rich individual or company uses publicly funded infrastructure for their own benefit, tax affairs are by definition in the public interest.

The ICIJ would be demanding that all companies providing 'offshore services' be forced (in the public interest) to open their files to prosecutors and journalists in order to expose all who use such destructive and immoral entities. The Panama Papers, after all, concern just one such company: the tip of a very large, very dirty iceberg.

But the ICIJ is demanding no such exposure, and that can only mean one thing: that it is just one more of the thousands of organizations in the pockets of the rich and powerful. It means that it cannot be regarded as a neutral media organ; that it is merely another tool with an agenda.

The release of the Panama Papers has attracted enormous and welcome public scrutiny to an issue that has long been studiously ignored by the corporate media, providing a much-needed outlet for public frustration and anger with the dismantling of their public services for the benefit of the extremely wealthy while millions starve or live in misery. This atmosphere is a symptom of the deeper malaise gripping the planet: the utterly discredited capitalist (profit motive) con game that has enriched a tiny few at the expense of the planet's people, wildlife and environment. It is one more step along the road to radical systemic change.

Written by Simon Wood

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