Oliver Bullough (2022)

A searing indictment of how Britain operates as the world’s largest tax haven.

OK, maybe not directly. But despite frequently seeming to champion global tax reform and the fight against evasion, the UK sits at the centre of a network of facilitators, aided and abetted by laws and customs that make it an attractive site for dirty money.

One can start with the “real” tax havens, many of which are British Dependent Territories. Could their behaviour be changed? – well, the clue is in the name. It could be changed tomorrow, giving them the choice of co-operating with international tax authorities or being cast adrift as newly-independent countries. Some might choose that route, but the fat remains that there’s clearly something attractive in dependency, including access to a legal system that’s largely trusted.

That same legal system is also a facilitator, though. All sorts of ancient laws pop up in unusual circumstances and allow smart accountants to create tax-evading shells, ranging from Scottish partnerships to “carried interest” arrangements originally designed for 16th-century sea captains and now used to shield hedge fund managers. Put enough complexity in place and the trails become impossible to follow.

The question obviously arises as to why this situation isn’t cleaned up, since it’s simply a matter of cleaning-up the law. This is where Bullough’s tale is at its most shocking: the deliberate desire to keep the dirty money flowing through London both to provide revenue and to encourage the network of tax and legal professionals who attract other, hopefully more legitimate, business. Doiing so may make narrow financial sense, but it comes at the cost of protecting money looted by the criminal and the corrupt, and of makinf further looting more likely by making the perpetrators less likely to be caught. It’s a dirty business that’s being encouraged by Brexit and the need to maintain a global presence.

4/5. Finished Friday 2 June, 2023.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)