Non-governmental groups in Jersey protest at tax havens

16th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The protest comes amid efforts by some countries to put pressure on tax havens and nations which maintain bank secrecy, with Germany stressing that Washington is showing new-found willingness to ensure that offshore financial centres do not go unregulated in the wake of the current crisis.

St. Helier -- Dozens of non-governmental organisations on Friday joined a protest against tax havens outside international banks on Jersey in the Channel Islands.

"We are here in Jersey not because we want to draw a picture of Jersey itself, we want to draw your attention to the major problems in the entire financial system," said John Christensen of the independent Tax Justice Network.

"Today we will show that there are banks engaged in activities around the world that use places like Jersey not just for tax evasion but also as a major part of the shadow banking system," he said.

Tax havens like Jersey are a "crucial part of the financial crisis," he added.

The protest comes amid efforts by some countries to put pressure on tax havens and nations which maintain bank secrecy, with Germany stressing that Washington is showing new-found willingness to ensure that offshore financial centres do not go unregulated in the wake of the current crisis.

Switzerland agreed Friday to relax its long-held bank secrecy laws.

On Jersey, militants from the anti-globalisation group Attac carried balloons covered with false banknotes as they marched past the branch offices of HSBC, Societe Generale, BNP Paribas, Citibank, Allied Irish Banks and others, with a few local residents joining the group.

Outside each bank they explained why bank practices are allegedly hurting Jersey, developing countries or the international financial system.

Jean Merckaert of the French NGO, Catholic Committee Against Hunger and For Development, singled out France's BNP Paribas, which he said had the largest number of branches in tax havens.

"189, including 21 branch offices in the Cayman Islands and three in Jersey alone," he said.

He said French President Nicolas Sarkozy "promised that assistance to banks in this crisis would be conditional on cutting ties with tax havens but BNP Paribas was the first to benefit from the French banking rescue."

Jenny Miley, a 34-year-old owner of a hairdresser's shop on Jersey, backed the protesters, saying: "If you are not from Jersey you shouldn't be allowed to have your money" on the island.

But an elderly woman disagreed: "It's nonsense, my husband worked in a bank there is nothing improper about their dealings.

"They don't know what they are talking about."

Christian Aid, Les Enfants de la Terre, Oxfam and Debt and Development Coalition Ireland were among the other groups to join the demonstration.

Jersey is a British protectorate with its own parliament and legal system.

Its authorities reject the label "tax haven," arguing that they have signed agreements with British authorities to share information about attempted tax dodging.

According to the Tax Justice Network NGO, 500 billion euros (650 billion dollars) of financial stock was held in Jersey brokers' hands in 2008, with some 30,000 companies registered on the island and its financial sector employing over 13,000 people -- and generating over half its national GDP.

Philip Ozouf, treasury minister on the island, told AFP that Jersey, home to some 90,000 inhabitants, is "a country which conforms to OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) standards" and which has "adapted its tax regulations to meet EU requirements."

Celine Agniel/AFP/Expatica

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