https://www.theguardian.com/business/20 ... havens-two
The offshore world is all around us. More than half of world trade passes, at least on paper, through tax havens. More than half of all banking assets and a third of foreign direct investment by multinational corporations are routed offshore. An impression has been created in sections of the world's media, since a series of stirring denunciations of tax havens by world leaders in 2008 and 2009, that the offshore system has been dismantled, or at least tamed. In fact quite the opposite has happened. The offshore system is in very rude health — and growing fast.
It is no coincidence that London, once the capital of the greatest empire the world has known, is the centre of the most important part of the global offshore system. The City's offshore network has three main parts. Two inner rings – Britain's crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man; and its overseas territories, such as the Cayman Islands – are substantially controlled by Britain, and combine futuristic offshore finance with medieval politics. The outer ring comprises a more diverse array of havens, such as Hong Kong, which are outside Britain's direct control but have strong links.
This network of offshore satellites does several things. First, it gives the City a truly global reach. The British havens scattered all around the world's time zones attract and catch mobile international capital flowing to and from nearby jurisdictions, just as a spider's web catches passing insects. Much of the money attracted to these places, and the business of handling that money, is then funnelled through to London.
Second, this British spider's web lets the City get involved in business that might be forbidden in Britain, providing sufficient distance to allow financiers in London plausible deniability of wrongdoing. Much (but not all) of the financial activity hosted in these places breaks laws and avoids regulation elsewhere.
The three crown dependencies in the inner ring are substantially controlled and supported by Britain but have enough independence to allow Britain to say "there is nothing we can do" when other countries complain of abuses run out of these havens. They channel very large amounts of finance up to the City of London: in the second quarter of 2009 the UK received net financing of $332.5bn (£215bn) just from its three crown dependencies.
Jersey Finance promotional literature makes the point plainly. "Jersey," it says, "represents an extension of the City of London."
The 14 overseas territories, the next ring in the spider's web, are the last surviving outposts of Britain's formal empire. With just a quarter of a million inhabitants between them they include some of the world's top secrecy jurisdictions: the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos islands and Gibraltar.
Just like the crown dependencies, the overseas territories have close but ambiguous political relationships with Britain. In the Caymans the most powerful person is the governor, appointed by the Queen. The governor handles defence, internal security and foreign relations; he appoints the police commissioner, the complaints commissioner, the auditor general, the attorney general, the judiciary and other top officials. The final appeal court is the privy council in London.
It is the world's fifth largest financial centre, hosting 80,000 registered companies, more than three-quarters of the world's hedge funds, and $1.9tn (£1.2tn) on deposit – four times as much as in New York City banks.
The third, outer ring of the British spider's web includes Hong Kong, Singapore, the Bahamas, Dubai and Ireland, which are fully independent though deeply connected to the City of London
This is an edited extract from Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World by Nicholas Shaxson,