Feb 22 2011

Cayman: my part in a departure (or probably not)

Posted by: Nick Shaxson in: Thoughts

Anthony Travers was the chairman of Cayman Finance who called me an ‘imbecile’ and left his post shortly afterwards. I now find this from the Telegraph:

“Farewell, Tony Travers. The combative chairman of Cayman Finance stepped down earlier this month. Whether this had anything to do with the savaging he received in Nicolas Shaxson’s book on tax havens, Treasure Islands, I can’t say. But his departure and the book’s arrival were, erm, adjacent.

I must admit, his departure came just a few hours after I published this blog, which highlighted a comment from a correspondent who called the output of Cayman finance ‘juvenile.’

But still, I doubt very much that I triggered Travers’ departure. Even if I had been a factor, it would have been of the straw kind – that which breaks the camel’s back. You see, things had clearly been going off on a very particular, aggressive direction for some time under Travers’ leadership – not, I’d argue, the right approach for such a widely maligned jurisdiction (and Travers’ job was not an easy one, I have to admit.)

One of the people who’d been hired while on Travers’ watch was an exceedingly salty character called Jack Irvine who was ‘political and media adviser’ to Cayman Finance. Irvine, I happen to know, spent some time last year whispering in the ears of journalists in the UK, spreading misinformation and nasty stories about the Tax Justice Network. Just take a look at some of these stories about the bruiser:

Not the nicest character, it seems.

Now we see that Travers has been replaced (has Irvine too?), at least temporarily: by Roy McTaggart. And he’s started with a blistering campaign to persuade people that . . . . Cayman isn’t a tax haven!

I think this all kinds of underlines a point that I make in Treasure Islands, where people working offshore can get into a kind of groupthink where they can say ridiculous things, and because everyone else around them is of a similar mindset, they all agree, and they think that what they are saying is perfectly reasonable, and they think they have got away with it.

I’d make two points about Taggart’s hit-the-ground-limping approach.

First, in my opinion it’s not up to tax havens, or secrecy jurisdictions, to define whether they are tax havens or not. It is the jurisdictions that are impacted and undercut and undermined by them, by rights, which should get to say who is a tax haven or not.  Richard Murphy provided a nice summary:

“If McTaggart does not realise that there’s as much chance of his argument that Cayman is not a tax haven being accepted in the House of Commons or in the UK generally  as there is of a claim from the Libyan government this morning that it is an open, liberal democracy being accepted at face value then he very clearly does not understand first of all what a tax haven is, second what the generally accepted use of the term is and thirdly what Cayman is.”

Second – here, for Mr. McTaggart’s delectation, I can provide a list of jurisdictions that aren’t (er, honestly!) tax havens. He might want to look at it. It’s here.

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