“Just the FACTs” is a round-up of news stories and information regarding efforts to combat corrupt financial practices, including offshore tax haven abuses, corporate secrecy, and the laundering of money through the financial system.
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Here’s the State of Play
Amazon Shareholders Representing $144 Billion Endorse Tax Transparency Shareholder Proposal Co-filed by FACT Coalition Member
On May 25, Amazon shareholders representing $144 billion backed a shareholder proposal calling for increased tax transparency by the company at its annual general meeting. The proposal represents a first of its kind campaign by investors to advance a vote on public country-by-country reporting. The GRI Tax standard that the proposal recommends is the most commonly adopted voluntary reporting standard for sustainability worldwide.
Currently, Amazon sends country-by-country reporting (CbCR) to the IRS and OECD tax authorities, where the information is not publicly available, leaving investors, policymakers and the public in the dark about how one of the world’s largest and most profitable international companies generates revenue and operates worldwide. Multinational companies such as Amazon have long abused tax secrecy to hide profit-shifting accounting tricks that cost the public billions in taxes every year, starving governments around the world of the needed revenue to fight inequality, combat climate change, and provide essential services. Public reports of taxes paid and other information in every jurisdiction would shine a light on where companies really generate revenue versus the low or no-tax jurisdictions where they artificially shift profits.
In addition to Amazon investors, momentum is building in other jurisdictions like Australia, where public country by country reporting was included in the party platform of Antony Albanese, the newly-elected Prime Minister of Australia.
New Transparency International Report Names “Gatekeeper” Industries and Funding Deficits As Significant Obstacles to Russian Oligarch Asset Recovery
On May 24, Transparency International released a report revealing the stark enforcement challenges facing the international Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force, established in March 2022. The findings highlight loopholes and blind spots in global and U.S. enforcement efforts, which weaken efforts to hold kleptocrats accountable for international sanctions. Among these challenges is the insufficient anti-money laundering regulation of the private sector, especially among non-financial “gatekeeper” industries.
In addition, the report notes that Congress has only recently begun to recognize the dangers of underfunding the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the U.S. agency responsible for collecting and analyzing financial data to track those who launder proceeds from corrupt and other illegal activities. Researchers also discovered substantial resource inequalities between FinCEN and foreign financial intelligence organizations, the report, in part, compares U.S. FinCEN staffing to the rate of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) – filed by financial institutions in compliance with the US Bank Secrecy Act – sent to FinCEN. For example;
1) The ratio of SARs filed to FinCEN staff is 10,000 to 1. In that, for every 10,000 SARs filed, there is only one staffer on the payroll to review SARs as compared to Germany, where the report says it’s approx. 520:1)
2) FinCEN funding equals about 0.0006% of total US GDP
Additionally, records show that none of the REPO-participating nations had established complete legislation to identify illicit funds in their economy. All participating nations fell short of the commitments they made at prior summits, conferences, and meetings, some dating back to 2004, to close the legal and regulatory gaps.
Commitments to a Fair Economy that Enforces Effective Tax, Anti-Money Laundering, and Anti-Bribery Regimes Take Center Stage at the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity Launch.
Home to a majority of the world’s population and a hotspot for economic growth, the Indo-Pacific will play a central role in both the U.S. and global economy for decades to come. Where there’s growth, however, bad actors and kleptocrats will see illicit profits to be made through the use of shady shell companies and other money laundering tools.
The FACT Coalition welcomed the framework’s inclusion of commitments to building a clean and fair economy. The framework will enact and enforce the effective tax, anti-money laundering, and anti-bribery regimes that are in line with the U.S. existing multilateral obligations to promote a fair economy. To reinforce the U.S. efforts to combat corruption, the framework plans to include rules on the exchange of tax information, the prosecution of bribery in accordance with UN standards, and the proper implementation of beneficial ownership recommendations. Going forward, the FACT Coalition looks forward to meaningful enforcement mechanisms needed to follow through on the framework’s promise.
FinCEN Receives Temporary Funding Relief as Part of a $40 Billion Ukraine Aid Package
Congress approved a second Ukraine aid package earlier this month, which included $52 million in emergency funding for the U.S. Treasury Department – in part, to aid in the enforcement of sanctions against Russia and the freezing of assets related to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Importantly, FinCEN will be a major recipient of these funds. According to Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI), FinCEN will receive almost $30 million of the total enacted amount. These funds will allow that bureau of the Treasury Department to continue playing its critical role both in backstopping sanctions efforts and in implementing structural reforms like the Corporate Transparency Act that will give national security officials tools to unearth illicit funds flowing through the U.S. financial system.
While it is an important first step in filling the budget shortfalls flagged last month by FinCEN Acting Director Him Das, FinCEN still has immense budget needs for the fiscal year 2023, amounting to $210.3 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee that oversees FinCEN is accepting public testimony in favor of certain budget amounts until June 24 (find guidelines here).
Latest from FACT
|BLOG POST: Addressing Capital Flight from Africa is a Global Task|
June 2: While African countries may be in a position to combat capital flight by strengthening their respective institutions and imposing hefty punishments on the various players, an actual remedy will need commitment from both governments in Africa and destination countries to tackle the financial secrecy and the role of the enablers. Global partnerships can play a significant role, including an increased commitment to cooperate on exchanging financial information.
|PRESS RELEASE: Shareholders Representing $144 Billion Endorse Tax Transparency Shareholder Proposal Co-filed by FACT Coalition Member|
May 27: More than 21 per cent of independent shareholders backed the proposal, including prominent investors such as Norway’s state pension fund, UK investment fund Legal & General Investment Management, and the New York City Comptroller. Proxy advisory firms such as Glass Lewis and Morningstar also recommended voting in favor of the proposal. Amazon had fought the proposal’s inclusion, but the Securities and Exchange Commission sided with shareholders, and the proposal was on the ballot.
FACT in the News
|QUOTED IN – Amazon shareholders reject public tax reporting proposal|
May 25: Ian Gary – “Wednesday’s historic vote is yet another indication of the unstoppable momentum for greater multinational corporate tax and financial transparency. – Investors said loud and clear that they need tax transparency to understand the financial, regulatory, and reputational risks companies may face due to blatant tax avoidance strategies.”
|QUOTED IN- Amazon Shareholders Reject Historic Tax Transparency Plan|
May 25: Ian Gary – “While the proposal did not pass, major investors such as the New York City comptroller and Norway’s state pension fund said loud and clear that they need tax transparency to understand the financial, regulatory, and reputational risks companies may face due to blatant tax avoidance strategies.”
|QUOTED IN – U.S. fights its own secrecy laws to pursue Russian assets|
May 27: Ian Gary – “While the U.S. has committed to being a leader in cracking down on global corruption, these rankings show how corrupt actors are weaponizing our financial system against democracy here and abroad”.
May 27: Erica Hanichak – “Often these chains of ownership can span four or five different continents and are intentionally opaque. Having better visibility into the U.S. piece of that puzzle is incredibly important, to be able to put together the broader picture of where Russian oligarchs’ assets could be invested’.
Recent and Upcoming Events
|Book Launch of “The Butler to the World:”|
June 22: The FACT coalition will host Oliver Bullough as he launches his latest book “The Butler to the World” here in the U.S. In this book, Oliver explains how the UK has developed a system of bankers, lawyers, accountants and PR professionals, who work to help Russian kleptocrats hide their wealth.
Social Media Shoutouts
@EmilyAssembly: It shouldn’t be easier to start an anonymous shell company than it is to get a library card. Let’s pass the LLC Transparency Act.
@EmilyAssembly: Anonymous LLCs allow slumlords, kleptocrats and tax cheats to do business in New York with impunity. Let’s pull back the curtain and pass our LLC Transparency Act with @bradhoylman today.
About the FACT Coalition