Art & Money Laundering in Switzerland

French version, published in Bilan: Marché de l’art: l’opacité se dissipe

NEW MEASURES MIGHT SHED LIGHT ON THE OPAQUE ART MARKET IN SWITZERLAND

Priti Patnaik, November 2015

Bilan, Geneva

A slew of changes in the legal and regulatory environment in Switzerland aim to tighten the noose around suspicious investors, who launder money by buying art and possibly, store them in customs free zones such as freeports. These changes, might, in the future be able to shed some light on the opaque art market and its use to evade taxes and worse, launder money gained through illegal means.

For the first time ever, art dealers who also act as financial intermediaries will be covered under the anti-money laundering rules and will need to take due diligence measures, including reporting cash transactions over CHF 100,000. The government is also reviewing mechanisms on improving regulations at freeports – custom free warehouses used to store precious art works.

Sandrine Giroud, a lawyer with LALIVE, a Geneva-based law firm, and also, director, Art Law Foundation (Fondation pour le droit de l’art), says “Switzerland is not immune to the issue of the use of the art market for money laundering purposes as its art market ranks among the five most prominent markets with 2% of the global activity and a turnover of 1 to 1.5 billion of Swiss francs.” In 2014, the global art market was estimated at 51 billion Euros.

Art as an asset class has been interesting, particularly gaining importance in the aftermath of the financial crises. It is also attractive for money launderers for a number of reasons.

Monika Roth, lawyer and professor at Lucerne’s University of Applied Sciences and Arts, says, “Art is portable and easily transported across borders. The appeal of a lucrative and easily movable asset is an obvious choice for money laundering.” Ms Roth has just finished on ‘Money Laundering and the Art Market’, a contribution that will be published in 2016 by Brill Nijhoff (Boston) in a new book on ‘Regulation of Art Investments’.

Money launderers are seeking primarily to turn dirty cash into other assets as quickly as possible rather than turn a profit or to invest prudently.  They are happy to pay more than a fair price for goods and services. “That distorts everything”. The art market is especially exposed because there is no “correct” price and a defined quality for art works.

“As there are no rules the players make up their own rules as they go along to suit their own purposes so nearly everything is possible and without consequences,” Ms Roth says.

She identified over 45 factors that make it easy to launder money in the art market. The art market has an ingrained culture of widespread anonymity and non-transparency.  Agreements of nondisclosure of names and prices are very common. Not all these factors are risks per se, but the combination of these issues shows clearly that money laundering and many of the weaknesses of the art market are no strangers to each other, she adds.

Laundering techniques in the art world are multiple and can take diverse forms such as the use of false bills for the fictitious purchase of artworks, fictitious auctions where an artwork is bought by an accomplice with money provided by the owner (money launderer) himself, artificial speculations over the price of an artwork or telephone auctions or bid orders guaranteed by a security that is subsequently returned by, and in the name of, a recognised bank because the uncommitted buyer (money launderer) renounces the artwork, explains Ms Giroud at LALIVE.

But all this may change soon. Starting 2016, a series of legal measures will take effect. This is a result of the Swiss Parliament adopting in December 2012, a set of recommendations framed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Paris-based FATF, seated in the OECD, sets the international standard in the fight against money laundering and financing of terrorism.  These recommendations entail extensive changes to laws including the Anti Money Laundering Act (AMLA). The Swiss Federal Act on the Implementation of the Revised FATF Recommendations comes into force in two stages – on 1 July 2015 and 1 January 2016.

Changes to the AMLA include reporting cash transactions and identifying contracting parties – measures that could impact the art market. While art dealers are not specifically mentioned, these measures will be applicable to them. The Act defines dealers as individuals or legal entities who deal professionally in goods and in the course of these activities receive cash payments. This is likely to have an impact on the art market globally and in Switzerland, experts say.

Cecile M Ringgenberg, a Geneva attorney who has extensive experience in tracking economic crime, says, “Going forward, not only financial intermediaries, but also, as of 1st January 2016,  dealers in high value goods  will have due diligence obligations under the anti-money laundering law in  conformity with the 2012 Revised FATF Recommendations.

Dealers in cash deals over CHF 100’000 will have due diligence obligations, unless they entrust a financial intermediary with transactions over CHF 100,000. The due diligence obligations include, identifying the contractual party, identifying the final beneficiary of the transaction and establishing the necessary documentation.

Dealers have to look out for “unusual transactions” or whether the funds may be the result of a crime or a “qualified tax violation” as defined by the penal law. In case of “founded suspicion” they have to inform the Money Laundering Reporting Office in Switzerland, Ms Ringgenberg explains. A “revisor”, as defined by the anti-money laundering law, needs to be appointed by the dealer. The revisor will oversee the dealer’s compliance with the due diligence obligations.

These rules will affect the art commerce as well as other high value markets such as real estate, jewellers and luxury car dealers. The exact scope of art dealers’ obligations under the new rules is uncertain as the implementing legislation is still under works, experts say. The European Union already imposes a cap of 10,000 Euros for cash payments with dealers.

The handling stolen goods is already a criminal offense under Swiss law. But going forward, the qualification of serious tax crimes as predicate offences to money laundering, has consequences for the art market, Ms Giroud says. Beginning 2016, the scope of predicate offences to money laundering will be extended in particular to qualified (serious) tax crimes or offenses (direct taxes). This includes misleading the authorities by using documents which are false, falsified or recognised as being incorrect, or by committing tax fraud by evading taxes more than 300,000 Swiss francs per tax period. If assets resulting from as serious tax offences are used as an investment in a work of art, such work could be seized in the context of money laundering proceedings. It will be up to the authorities to take the necessary action to supervise, she adds.

However, there could be a loop hole – namely freeports or duty-free privately run warehouses where goods can be stored without triggering import duties and taxes, with a promise of a high degree of secrecy.

2014 Deloitte report identified freeports as important hubs for the art and wealth management industry given the increasingly global nature of the art trade and market, “the demand for storage facilities and duty-free zones is likely to increase”.

In a report in January 2014, the Swiss Federal Audit Office (SFAO) in Bern, estimated that the value of goods in open customs warehouses was pegged at CHF 15 billion in 2012 according to Swiss Customs. However, authorities have no similar estimate for freeports. In its report, the audit office said that there is lack awareness on the political and economic stakes regarding customs warehouses. To be sure, since 2007, these warehouses (both freeports and open customs warehouses) became a part of the Swiss customs territory, but the number of inspections is an area of concern.

While Swiss authorities are aware of economic benefits of freeports, they are also concerned. These warehouses, play a role in lowering the technical barriers of trade by temporarily storing merchandise without clearing them. However, it has been found that some of the warehouses function for management of private or institutional assets and tax optimisation for high-value goods, according to the Swiss Federal Audit Office.

There are perceptions that certain freeport warehouses are not used primarily for commercial cargo in transit – that is without having to pay customs fees, but rather for a long term storage of high value pieces of art with no real ‘end user’ in the sense of an art museum or an art collector.

Thomas Christ of the Basel Institute on Governance, who co-authored and drafted guidelines for self-regulation of the art market, (the Basel Art Trade Guidelines) said, “These warehouses give the impression they serve as a hiding place for undeclared values of unknown origin and partly unknown beneficiary owners”. He cites the example of art dealers like Yves Bouvier, who also run warehouses, as a sign of a doubtful optimization of high value asset management. Mr Bouvier was arrested earlier this year, exposing the cracks in the art market given the confidentiality around the prices, the buying, the selling and the storage of art, making it vulnerable to money laundering.

However, following the report by the audit office, the Federal Council has since decided to look at this issue more closely. In March 2015, the Federal Council announced that it will review the Federal Customs Act and work on a strategy to address freeports. “The strategy foresees in particular to increasing transparency, strengthen controls and use existing national and international cooperation schemes more efficiently,” Mr Mario Tuor, spokesperson for State Secretariat for International Financial Matters told Bilan in an email. Most of the measures will be implemented through the adaption of the Customs Ordinance in early 2016, he added.

Further, in June this year, the Federal Council also acknowledged a report by The interdepartmental coordinating group on combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism (CGMT) that advocated greater supervision and closer scrutiny of warehouses so that goods are exported on time and not stored indefinitely. It also pushed for transparency on the names of owners of goods at freeports.

What is troubling is that freeports are not subject to anti-money laundering provisions. Cathy  Maret, spokesperson of Federal Office of Police, said that the anti-money laundering law is not applicable to freeports. They do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Money Laundering Reporting Office in Switzerland.

But some believe that the art market is not ideal for money launderers. Marion Manekar who runs Art Market Monitor believes that art is an illiquid market. “There are numerous other, more efficient, ways to move money internationally. There is simply not enough liquidity or enough transactions to make buying of art a reliable means to move money.”

However, one is tempted to make a correlation between the loosening of banking secrecy norms and an increase in money laundering in the art market especially given the rise in speculation in the art market. Although there is no definitive link, it might be worthwhile to keep this hypothesis in mind.

The Art Law Foundation in Geneva has a conference on art and money laundering on November 13th later this year.

Going Solo

A friend describes it as “manic confidence”. But most people use unsure euphemisms such as “brave”. A few months ago, I ‘renounced’ a fairly well-paid UN gig in Geneva. There were several reasons, but none more powerful than the need to take complete control of my time and my life. I was unabashed in my enthusiasm for this decision.

It has been a few months, and my sense of optimism remains undiminished.

It seems that I was heading this direction for a while, but I was not really paying attention. A 13 hour boat journey on the Irrawaddy in December 2013, spurred a few dormant, radical ideas. I was reading this life-altering book called Quiet, that introduced me to myself. Apparently, I had not fully recognised that I am an introvert. And that I treasured working alone to tap into what I really wanted to do.

I turned 35 this year. And somehow that felt, extremely empowering and a great milestone to cross. I wanted to actively take steps to shape my life – and to make my life “simple and slow”.

I had worked as a freelancer when I first moved to Switzerland a few years ago. It was incredibly tough, and frustrating, since I had always worked as a full-time reporter till then. But those experiences actually emboldened me, for it seemed that I had already faced the worst side including finding gigs that were not sustainable and chasing people for paltry sums. This led me to maniacally pursue well-paid positions in other sectors. I sought them, and won.

But it turns out, that there are diminishing returns on money. It just did not matter after a point, how much I earned. I had hit middle-age, it was too comfortable, I could effectively not jog my brains, go to work and get paid. I had forgotten what it was to think.

I believe one of the toughest questions to answer, in life is – really – what is it that one wants to do. I took several months, (perhaps even years subconsciously), to articulate a well thought out, considered, deliberate response to this question.

By this stage, I knew what made me happy – a basic standard of living, some books, some food and solitude and most importantly the latitude to do what I wanted.

Being an immigrant imposes several limitations. But there are different, equally constraining limitations back home. So on balance it is pretty much the same. So this excuse was eliminated in my mind.

Years of facing unclear job prospects due to local language inadequacies, economies in recession, and a media industry in turmoil, had made me vulnerable, but it also taught me to live with uncertainty. Before I realised, there was a mental shift that had taken place – to be ok without the reassurances of a regular income. I believe, that was deeply liberating. Yes, there is insurance and pension to think about, but the challenge really is to define what you perceive as success – after cutting out noise such as position, power, business trips, big bucks and a professionally defined identity.

I quietly went about acquiring skills and getting another master’s degree, and working out of my comfort zone. In the process, gathered enough confidence and insights into how the world works outside of journalism. It was fascinating, but I was often guarded and watchful about what I was doing, despite meeting with reasonable success.

Soon I realized that I was not telling a story that I was meant to tell (not entirely clear yet what that exactly is!) I was not able to craft my work the way it interested me, the way I thought about the world and my role in it – with minimum middlemen and women, in some sense.

Given my multi-disciplinary interests and my inter-disciplinary academic background (which is such a burden in a world with strong disciplinary vocations, by the way) – I decided to go solo. It is alright to have diverse interests, it is alright to be bored working on only one thing, it is alright to be me. Quite simple actually, come to think of it. But it took several years in preparation to reach this point when I could kick the bucket and take flight.

I have not felt as alive as I have in these last few months – as I did, when I first started out eager to make a difference of sorts. It has been such a warm, humbling experience to accept limitations and yet work everyday as if there are no limitations.

I am fortunate to have a mobile profession, where all I need is motivation and an internet connection. I do not require tools, teams and machinery.

Another big part of this happiness is finding an amazingly quiet place to work. I feel like a citizen of the new world, by working alongside my “co-workers”. We are living this 21st century approach to life and work, that apparently first originated as a concept in San Francisco. Worknshare is one of the many co-working spaces here in Lausanne close to the lake in this beautiful city. I work alongside scientists of all stripes, developers, and others like me, who cannot be categorized into a box.

I read more, I write more. While I am concerned about money, I am peaceful. I have reclaimed myself to some extent. While the searching has stopped, the yearning has just begun.

Sports and Money Laundering

The legal and fiscal status of FIFA might come under the scanner once again (Read French version here.)

Priti Patnaik, Geneva

Bilan, June 5, 2014

The clean-up at FIFA has begun, fuelled by forces far away from the city of Zurich where it is hosted. The resignation of President Sepp Blatter is a sign of things to come. The city of Zurich and the government of Switzerland, might inevitably be drawn into these world-wide efforts to make the world governing body of football, more accountable.

It is not just the sports community, the sponsors and law enforcement officials who are watching FIFA closely. It is likely that this time round, Swiss Parliamentarians, the international community, and everyone else who has a stake in preserving the integrity of the sport, will use the latest round of allegations as an opportunity to reform governance at FIFA.

From a Swiss perspective, there are two issues: the legal status of FIFA that categorises it as an association giving it enormous latitude and its consequent fiscal obligations in Switzerland. Second, more important is whether and how the Swiss are going to connect charges of money laundering at FIFA to its tax status.

FIFA moved to Zurich in 1932 and was established in the legal form of an association under article 60ff of the Swiss Civil Code. Being an association means flexible legal terms, a reduced tax burden and so far, an exemption from Swiss anti-corruption laws.

Sports organizations like FIFA, have a four year accounting cycle. As per FIFA Statutes, the financial period of FIFA is four years, beginning on January 1st in the year following the final competition of the FIFA World Cup. The revenue and expenditure of FIFA is managed so that they balance out over the financial period. All major duties at FIFA is guaranteed through the creation of reserves. As a non-profit organization, it is obliged to spend its cash reserves on the game of football.

During the reporting period of 2011-2014, FIFA had revenues of $5.1 billion, with an operating profit of $338 million. (Profit from the 2014 World Cup was $4.8 billion, with expenses of $2.2 billion, it made a net profit of $2.6 billion.) Most of FIFA’s revenues is generated through television rights, marketing, hospitality and licensing rights for the World Cup. By the end of 2014, FIFA’s had reserves of $1.5 billion.

Mark Herkenrath of Alliance Sud says, “Given FIFA’s substantial income, its status as a not-for-profit organization is highly questionable.” FIFA enjoys reduced taxation due to its status as an association. It pays taxes at 4.5% and 4% respectively at federal and cantonal level.

A spokesperson at FIFA said in an email to Bilan, “As stated in the 2014 Financial report, FIFA accounted for USD 75 million in taxes for the past four years (2011-2014).” There are no publicly available numbers on what this reduced tax status of FIFA as a result of its classification as an association, has cost the government of Switzerland.

“Unfortunately, we cannot tell you anything about the specific case FIFA for reasons of confidentiality,” Thierry Li-Marchetti, communication specialist at the Swiss Federal Tax Administration, told Bilan in an email.

That FIFA pays taxes in Switzerland, is used a reason to excuse itself from paying taxes in host countries where the FIFA World Cup is held, critics have said. This costs host countries dearly given the substantial investments for hosting the World Cup.

Although, FIFA has clarified in the past that it does not make any demands for a general tax exemption for sponsors and suppliers, or for any commercial activities in the host country. It has admitted that it needed “easing of customs procedures” and that “all of these exemptions are comparable in scope to those requested by organisers of other sporting or cultural events”.

Jens Sejer Andersen, international director at Play the Game, an international conference and communication initiative that works for ethics and transparency in sports, said on phone, “What needs to change is FIFA’s legal status as an association that gives it exceptional freedom. The status is being abused as a shield to protect its flagrant malpractices – standards of corruption that is a class of its own. A global billion dollar business should not be classified as an ordinary association.”

However, more importantly, the question for the future is, will FIFA continue to enjoy reduced taxation in light of the money laundering allegations that have surfaced following the recent crackdown by the U.S.’s Department of Justice.

Over the last few years, there have been efforts from a number of quarters to change governance at FIFA. The Federal Sports Office released a Report on Corruption in 2012, which recommended a series of legal measures that came to known as Lex FIFA.

Several initiatives were brought in over the years by a range of parliamentarians including Géraldine Savary from Vaud in 2006, Roland Rino Buechel, the member of Parliament for the Swiss People’s Party, Cedric Wermuth of the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, also representative from Aargau, elected to the National Council of Switzerland, to critically look at privileges that FIFA enjoys in Zurich.

But these efforts have not amounted to much, possibly driven by fears that tinkering with FIFA’s tax status might actually encourage it to move to more favorable jurisdictions elsewhere in Switzerland or even outside such as Qatar or Malaysia.

Jean-Loup Chappelet, Professor for public management at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (Institut Des Hautes Etudes En Admistration Publique, IDHEAP), said, “The cantons are sovereign in terms of taxes. Only a Swiss (federal or cantonal) law could change things but would have to be discussed with/by the cantons. It is up to the cantonal Government of Zurich to take such a decision not the Swiss Government.” But it will be politically difficult for a canton to provide tax privileges to organizations or persons guilty of money laundering, he added.

The issue at hand is potentially larger than just the tax burden on FIFA vis-à-vis its profits. The implication of connecting charges of money-laundering at FIFA to its tax status is crucial. Mr Wermuth of the Social Democratic Party feels there is no political will to do this. “Switzerland and its government aren’t FIFA victims – they have always been their allies,” he said.

Roland Meier, spokesman for the Federal Department of Finance (FDF), said that FIFA doesn’t have any tax privileges by the Swiss Confederation.

Depending on who you talk to, one can be led to believe that this time around, a variety of factors might come to bear upon the Swiss government including amendments to domestic legislation to curb money laundering and international pressure to clean up. Some of these measures were also part of the Lex FIFA set of reforms suggested earlier.

In June 2015, the Swiss Parliament will consider amendments to the Swiss criminal code  submitted by the Swiss government that will criminalize corruption in sports. In addition, persons exercising important functions in international sports federations will come under scrutiny as “Politically Exposed Persons”.

This flows from recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body in charge of setting standards, through non-binding recommendations, to combat money laundering. The implementation of these recommendations is led by a system of peer review, with a threat to blacklist countries that do not follow suit. (The EU, for example, includes the FATF recommendations in its Anti-Money Laundering Directive which sets a legal framework to prevent money laundering for all 28 member states, and in specific cases goes further than the FATF recommendations.)

To be sure, money laundering is forbidden in Switzerland by the criminal code (as in many countries) and one can be prosecuted for it. But these new changes could empower the Swiss Attorney General Office to start an investigation without a complaint being filed for corruption, even based on serious rumors. It will also allow for complaints against unknown persons.

“If the amendments are adopted all organizations in Switzerland (all associations, foundations, corporations, cooperatives, etc.) and persons could be investigated for private corruption by the Swiss Attorney General Office without a complaint being filled against them for corruption,” Mr Chappelet said.

Some experts are of the view that the FIFA officials who were arrested should already have been considered PEPs by banks because some are already government officials and all are closely associated with government officials.

Not all are optimistic about the power of domestic legislative changes. Mr Wermuth Aargau’s representative at the National Council of Switzerland, from the Social Democratic Party said, “It won’t change a lot actually. The problem is that central problem with bribery is that nobody notices. So without a strong whistleblowing law there won’t probably be a great impact. Although the vote (in the upper house only for the moment) is important. It opens a – theoretical – way for the authorities to monitor and intervene.”

He however hopes that the condition-free support in Parliament will break down after these events. This may result in changes according FIFA’s tax status, regulatory measures for more transparency and a strengthening of anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws.

“The issue is that FIFA is organized as a normal association. This means that their tax burden is half the burden of a normal company. We will try to reform the law concerning associations,” Mr Wermuth said.

Moreover the pressure on the Swiss government to improve regulatory scrutiny is increasing. “Pressured by the public and forums such as the Council of Europe, the EU and OECD, the Swiss government may decide on increased scrutiny on the activities of FIFA. The role of Switzerland in addressing some of these issues, is often discussed on international platforms. These international discussions to protect the integrity of sports do matter, because Switzerland would like to have good relations with other countries,” Mr Andersen at Play the Game, said.

The adoption in 2006 of the Criminal Law Convention of the Council of Europe on Corruption by the Swiss government means that there is pressure from the Groups of States against Corruption at the Council of Europe (Groupe d’Etats contre la corruption, GRECO). GRECO follows the compliance of states like Switzerland which have ratified the anti-corruption convention.

“International pressure is the key. As it has been the case – unfortunately – with the banking secrecy,” Mr Wermuth said. “The only pressure that could work is one with a political leverage –  a painful measure concerning banking or tax issues by the EU or the US,” he added.

Koen Roovers, EU Advocate for the Financial Transparency Coalition, agrees. “There is an interesting dichotomy at play here: on the one hand there’s the hands-off approach regarding sports’ associations based in Switzerland that are seen as non-profit organisations like any other, and on the other hand the massive reputational risks that come with FIFA as the world’s most prominent representational body for one of the most popular sports around. It only seems logical that the international pressure will increase if a sport that is so important to so many nations is seemingly thoroughly corrupted.”

A full circle?

Its been about a year or more, since I began working in public health. This post is to consolidate what I have gathered during this period.

To continue in the direction of my master’s research project on which I have blogged before, I was hoping to do more work in the area of natural resource governance. But that was not to be!

In parallel, I had also done several rounds of meeting people in WHO and public health related NGOs in Geneva. Health was not completely off the radar for me, in any case, since I had spent a good deal of time at The Graduate Institute in Geneva, trying to understand access to medicine issues – both trade and intellectual property aspects. I had also analysed the impact of the policies of the World Health Organization on the private sector, for a trade law firm I was working for.

Eventually, I sort of stumbled on an opportunity to work in the one of most neglected diseases in public health – tuberculosis.

I took the opportunity to learn more about a disease that kills more than 1.5 million people every year, or 3 people a minute, to be more precise. And India, has the highest burden of TB in the world.

I did not realise I would have to dig up deep into the reserves of my mind, going back to the days during my bachelors’ when I majored in microbiology, genetics and chemistry! I figured, life did come a full circle. Nervously, I poured over a basic epidemiology text book. Yes, I had to know what ‘smear-positive’ and ‘prevalence’ meant, but it was more than that. My work is less about the science itself, and more about locating the science or public health in a certain context: political, economic and legal.

It has been a great vantage point to see how public health campaigns are built, to understand the dynamics of health financing, to see how political processes can be shaped so that countries to sign up for commitments on public health, and to witness the over-arching debates on price, procurement and access to medicines.

It has been an interesting explorative process to engage with questions such as what would spur investments into R&D for drug-resistant TB, at a time when antimicrobial resistance is widespread? Or which is the best way to integrate TB into national public health systems, so that more patients are diagnosed and treated? Do the solutions to combat a curable disease, lie outside the realms of public health, such as urban planning and high level political choices such as universal health coverage? And importantly, why has the world failed in stopping the spread of a disease that has killed nearly 2 billion people over thousands of years? Or simply, why does HIV/AIDS get far more funding and attention, than TB? Complex questions all. A myriad of actors all over the world are trying to answer these challenges.

A part of my work, also involved converting scientific information and numbers in layman’s terms, while preserving accuracy and lucidity. In trying to do so, I was struck, for the first time, about the importance of design and communication in public health. It led me to a whole new science or art, if you wish, on how information can be structured. Fascinating!

This has surely given me invaluable perspective on why health is political, and more.

 

Gray, black, MONEY

Cannot believe that I have not posted since over a year. It also goes to show how exciting life has been in some ways during this period, in addition to my undisciplined blogging!

Let me pick up from where I left. Or at least try to. It is almost as if I have to write two simultaneous blogposts albeit on very different subjects.

In the fall of 2013, on winning a scholarship, I headed to London for a course in ‘Investigating Illicit Finance, Financial Secrecy and Asset Recovery’ organized by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and Tax Justice Network at the City University of London. In the week long program, a bunch of investigative journalists and researchers from many parts of the world, were thrown in together to get primed on all issues related to illicit financial flows, shell companies, and tax evasion. It was an honor to meet the pros and several high profile journalists, who were writing and investigating this issue for years now.

Around the same time, I started freelancing for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation’s Swissinfo.ch which is based in Bern. (In the past, I had written on the subject intermittently for an Indian newspaper on similar issues.)

This was also the time when tax evasion in India was gathering even more traction than before. It has since become a huge political issue, reinforced by the global campaign to crackdown on illicit financial flows.

At that time, fresh from my research about mining in Eastern India, I was blazing with curiosity trying to connect the dots between abusive resource extraction, loss of revenues for governments and huge untaxed profits siphoned off to tax havens, only to be round-tripped back home as foreign direct investment.

This will continue to be an evolving issue. For now though, it seems that tax evaders are moving funds faster than the cops and campaigners engaged in the fight to beat economic crime.

Platforms like the G20 and the OECD have played their part and contributed to this movement gaining critical mass over the last few years. Organizations like the Tax Justice Network and Global Financial Integrity are at the forefront of this crusade.

It seems reducing tax evasion has the third most effective benefit per dollar spent in various development targets in the context of post 2015 agenda.

What makes it more fascinating for me, personally, is to be writing about this, from Switzerland – the center for low corporate taxation (like The Netherlands), a tax haven (losing its position to London, Singapore, Delaware, Florida among others), a heaven for commodity traders and bankers etc etc. (Check out ICIJ’s expansive investigation on HSBC ‘Swissleaks’)

I wish to write more about this stuff, but I do this in addition to my full-time job in public health in Geneva. More on that, in the following post.

Indian Economy & Politics

FOR THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FOR BUSINESS STANDARD

Political reporting: General Elections in India: May 2004