Jan 13 2011

The FT, the Caymans, and Treasure Islands

I wrote recently about Anthony Travers of the Cayman Islands calling me an ‘imbecile’ for what  I say in Treasure Islands. (Has he read it?) When a Caymans television interviewer asked him to comment on my description of these places as combining futuristic offshore finance with medieval politics, Travers’ reply was:

“I don’t know what he is talking about. And furthermore he doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

I would invite Mr. Travers, then, to turn to the Financial Times today. It’s carrying a long, excellent and rather involved tale of poor governance on the Caymans and others of Britain’s offshore satellites, and among many other things it says this:

“the affair does seem to have raised important questions about the rule of law in Cayman – and the network of close relationships that dominates the elite of this and other small British territories – many of which have been obscured by arguments over the conduct of the investigation. The case also goes to the heart of the UK’s awkward relationship with the “pink dots on the map” that are both imperial relics and significant operators in world finance. “

In other words, these places of futuristic offshore finance involve, er, medieval politics. And the story itself backs this up. So I don’t know what Mr. Travers is talking about. But he does know what he is talking about. And he is demonstrably wrong – as the FT so neatly explains. So why does he say it?

It’s a very fine FT piece, rather long, which quotes me and Treasure Islands near the top:

Nicholas Shaxson, author of Treasure Islands, a book about offshore finance centres published this month, says these small havens “all tend to be plagued by allegations of corruption and there are often questions about whether they are investigated properly. When it comes to these problems, the buck stops in London.”

On a sadder note, the story involves as a central element the publication Cayman Net News, which I singled out on my recent Caymans blog as being perhaps the only news organisation that sometimes gives the other side of the story (and given the pressures that dissidents come under in tax havens, all credit to them for that.) The sad bit is that the publisher Desmond Seales – whom I interviewed in the Caymans about this very case but decided not to write about it because of its complexity – died last year. He was getting on in age, though was incredibly sprightly when I met him. And I liked him a lot.

Desmond Seales, R.I.P

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