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US and Switzerland among most corrupt nations, statistics show

The Tax Justice Network produces a Financial Secrecy Index, ranking countries for the assistance their legal systems provide, to money-launderers, and to all people who seek to protect corruptly-obtained wealth.

Eric Zuesse

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The higher the score, the more corrupt the government is.

The last time this Index was published, in 2015, Switzerland was rated the world’s most-corrupt country, and Hong Kong was then #2. But now, in its newly released global rankings, “Financial Secrecy Index — 2018 Results”, though Switzerland still holds its #1 (most-corrupt) spot, the U.S. has become #2, and Hong Kong has now fallen to #4, which is immediately below Cayman Islands (which is #3, and which had been #5 in 2015).

The detailed report-card for Switzerland says “the Swiss will exchange information with rich countries if they have to, but will continue offering citizens of poorer countries the opportunity to evade their taxpaying responsibilities. These factors, along with ongoing aggressive pursuit of financial sector whistleblowers (resorting at times to what appear to be non-legal methods) are ongoing reminders of why Switzerland remains the most important secrecy jurisdiction in the world today.”

The detailed report-card for the United States notes America’s rising score, and resulting success in attracting corrupt wealth, as follows:

The rise of the US continues a long term trend, as the country was one of the few to increase their secrecy score in the 2015 index. The continues [intending the word “continued”] rise of the US in the 2018 index comes off the back of a significant change in the US share of the global market for offshore financial services. Between 2015 and 2018 the US increased its market share in offshore financial services by 14%. In total the US accounts for 22.3% of the global market in offshore financial services.

The U.S. report-card asserts that, “Financial secrecy provided by the U.S. has caused untold harm to the ordinary citizens of foreign countries, whose elites have used the United States as a bolt-hole for looted wealth.” Of course, this isn’t the largest such “bolt-hole” — it’s the second-largest. Furthermore, the report-card for Switzerland said:

According to the Swiss Bankers’ Association banks in Switzerland hold CHF 6.65 trillion ($6.5 trillion) in assets under management, of which 48 percent originated from abroad: this made Switzerland the world leader in global cross-border asset management, with a 25 percent share of that market.1 In terms of the narrower wealth management sector, Deloitte estimated that Switzerland was also the world leader with US$2.04 trillion in assets under management in 2014, compared to the $1.65 trillion and $1.43 trillion for the UK and US respectively.2

The “Secretiveness” scores ranged from “100%” meaning total secrecy, to “Moderately secretive” meaning from 31% to 40% secretive; and, so, among the 112 ranked countries, none were unwelcoming of corruptly obtained wealth; all were at least “moderately” welcoming of it.

Furthermore, other factors than “Secretiveness” were also included in the rankings. The 242-page Methodology document says, for example, that “The secrecy score is cubed and the weighting is cube-rooted before being multiplied to produce a Financial Secrecy Index which ranks secrecy jurisdictions according to their degree of secrecy and the scale of their trade in international financial services.” So, countries such as Montserrat,  which ranked at the very bottom, #112, actually had a “Secrecy” score of 77.5% (higher even than Switzerland), but it had extraordinarily good “International Standards and Cooperation” such as with “Anti-Money Laundering” and a 0% score of non-cooperation with “Bilateral Treaties.”

Above all: any country, in which only few wealthy foreigners want to park their money, was ranked among the least-corrupt, in Tax Justice Center’s methodology — and “FSI Share,” or the percentage of the global total wealth that’s stashed offshore within the given country, is by far the dominant factor, in their calculations of ‘Financial Secrecy Index’, so that their methodology is simply absurd. The Methodology document ‘justifies’ this deceptive practice by saying:

The ranking reflects not only information about which are the most secretive jurisdictions, but also the question of scale (i.e. the extent to which a jurisdiction’s secrecy is likely to have global impact). In this way, the Financial Secrecy Index offers an answer to the question: by providing offshore financial services in combination with a lack of transparency, how much damage is each secrecy jurisdiction actually responsible for?

Obviously, any ranking-system that’s ranking countries more according to how big a percentage of the global offshore wealth it’s hosting, than according to how secretive the country is when other countries are seeking its assistance in tracking down assets that are held abroad, is no real ‘Financial Secrecy Index’ at all, and thus should be renamed, perhaps as “International Economic Harm Index” or something else that’s not nearly as misleading as the existing title for it (‘Financial Secrecy Index’) is.

Be that as it may: among the 112 nations that were ranked,

China was #28 and was 60% secretive (60% “Secrecy Score”).

Russia ranked #29 and was 64% secretive.

Ukraine ranked #43, and was 69% secretive.

By contrast, U.S. was ranked as 60% secretive; so, U.S. is actually in their league and is less corrupt than Ukraine, but is ranked as the 2nd-most-‘Secretive’ of all rated countries. Switzerland was ranked as 76% secretive, which places Switzerland among the 28 most-secretive countries on the list — but it has the highest ‘Financial Secrecy Index’ of any, even though more than two dozen countries received a higher “Secrecy Score.”

The nine highest-scoring nations on their actual “Secrecy Score” were, from the top: (#1) Vanuatu 89%; (#2) Antigua-Barbuda 87%; (tied #s 3-5) UAE, Bahamas, and Brunei, 84%; (tied #s 6-9) Thailand, Kenya, Liberia, and Bolivia, 80%.

So: Those were actually the 9 highest-scored “Secrecy Score” countries.

The 7 lowest-scored “Secrecy Score” ones were: 42% (tied) UK and Slovenia, 44% Belgium, 45% Sweden, 47% Lithuania, 49% Italy, 49% Brazil.

But is Brazil really among the least-corrupt countries? Is it, even, really, among the financially most transparent countries?

Furthermore, the detailed report-card for the U.S. asserts:<

A wealthy Ukrainian, say, sets up a Delaware shell company using a local company formation agent. That Delaware agent will provide nominee officers and directors (typically lawyers) to serve as fronts for the real owners, and their details and photocopies of their passports can be made public but that gets you no closer to who the genuine Ukrainian owner of that company is: if the nominees are lawyers they are bound by attorney-client privilege not to reveal the information (if they even have it: the owner of that shell company may be another secretive shell company or trust somewhere else).

The company can run millions through its bank account but nobody – whether domestic or foreign law enforcement – can crack through that form of secrecy in any efficient or effective way. In the words of Dennis Lormel, the first chief of the FBI’s Terrorist Financing Operations Section and a retired 28-year Bureau veteran, “Terrorists, organized crime groups, and pariah states need access to the international banking system. Shell firms are how they get it.” …

Almost two million corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) are formed in U.S. states each year, many by foreigners, without the states ever asking for the identity of the ultimate beneficial owners. Some serve legitimate purposes but many, in the words of Senator Carl Levin, “function as conduits for organised crime, money laundering, securities fraud, tax evasion, and other misconduct.”

Nonetheless, the U.S. is granted a modest “Secrecy Score” of only 60% — though the process that’s described there is providing 100% secrecy. Nothing is being said, not even in the Methodology document, about how a country which can provide 100% secrecy, deserves a mere 60% “Secrecy Score.”

The detailed report-card on Switzerland likewise includes considerable text describing a country that seems as corrupt as is indicated in the text describing America. Granting the U.S. a “Secrecy Score” of only 60%, while Switzerland receives a much higher 76% such score, is puzzling; and, again, the Methodology document provides no help to understand what the actual methodology that was used is — much less to justify the methodology.

Perhaps the worst score of all should go to the Tax Justice Network itself.

However, maybe the so-called “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists” deserves an even worse score, because that organization headlined on January 30th, “US, Switzerland singled out for financial secrecy by new index” and reported favorably about this “new index,” which is actually in at least its second edition, since an earlier one was reported in 2015 — so, this isn’t even a ‘new index’ at all, but is at least a three-year-old index.

Isn’t a bit of investigative journalism necessary from a purported professional organization of ‘Investigative Journalists’? Or does mere ‘journalistic’ stenography now qualify, even as ‘investigative’ journalism? Is ‘journalism’ now mere PR, propaganda, public relations? And is ‘investigative’ now mere reading and reciting from a source? What’s the difference between PR versus ‘investigative journalism’?

And: what’s the difference between America’s 60% “Secrecy Score” and Switzerland’s 76% one? Based upon the detailed report-cards, how would it be possible to be ‘more corrupt’ than each of these countries is?

The United States Government routinely characterizes any Government that it seeks to overthrow as being ‘corrupt’. Perhaps that fact, more than any other, shows how corrupt the U.S. Government itself really is.

Throwing stones from glass houses does no one any good. But it does prove — and not merely by some organization’s flawed methodology — that hypocrisy can sometimes signal a threat that could turn out to be even worse than “Financial Secrecy” or “Secrecy Score” or even than real corruption.

When the United States Government called Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gaddafi, and Viktor Yanukovych, etc., by such terms as “corrupt,” the invasions and coups which were ‘justified’ by means of that U.S. name-calling, perpetrated vastly more harm than any corruption which was, or might have been, perpetrated by those individually blamed persons.

Such “stones from glass houses,” as the U.S. casts, contain bombs; they’re actually warheads; they are weapons of mass destruction, such as extremely corrupt governments employ with the most hypocritical of ‘humanitarian’ ‘concerns’, for the mass-victims, which commonly result from their mass-weapons.

Corruption that’s so heavily armed, is the worst sort of corruption there is — regardless of whether it’s associated with an exceptionally high “Financial Secrecy Index,” or any other type of extraordinary corruption. And, certainly, the U.S. far outdoes Switzerland, on this score. So: Trump is right — “America is Number One”, after all.

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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