While ‘Brexit’ returned the front pages following President Obama’s carefully stage-managed intervention into the referendum debate, the fall out from the Panama Papers continues to rumble on in the background.
Why the largest data leak in history has all the ingredients for a low-grade thriller – corrupt dictators, greedy politicians and a global network of investigative journalists – America seemed conveniently clear of the storm.
It’ll be all the better given the exotic locations involved. Little known countries like British Anguilla and Samoa are making the headlines for being home to thousands of shell companies incorporated by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the heart of the scandal.
But the favourite place for the global elite to park their cash discreetly seems to be Caribbean holiday resort the British Virgin Islands. When Panama Papers: the Movie is released, expect plenty of beach and bikini shots.
Apart from over 100,000 secret firms and a seasonal tourism industry, what else can this tiny archipelago offer the world?
The question is even more pertinent for Niue; a miniscule Pacific isle nicknamed the ‘Rock of Polynesia’. The country has so few prospects 90 to 95 per cent of Niueans live in New Zealand. In fact, until the Bank of New York and Chase Manhattan blacklisted the place back in the early Noughties, Niue had more shell companies than people.
While only a paltry sum was required to register a company, offshore finance was bringing enough to meet 80 per cent of Niue’s $2m annual budget. The blacklisting in 2001 brought an end to this all however, and now Niue relies on selling novelty coins to get by.
The forthcoming Anti-Corruption Summit in London, organised before the Panama Papers blew up in the press, might see the likes of Anguilla and the Virgin Islands face the same fate, especially given they are still nominally under Britain’s thumb.
These territories will have few defenders. The ever-so reasonable Dominic Grieve, former UK attorney general, came to their aid in a BBC Radio 4 interview when the story first broke. And David Cameron seems reluctant to do anything – for now. But with terrabytes of documents still to get through, meaning a constant drip feed of uncomfortable news stories, demands for action may grow too loud to ignore.
Don’t expect Nevada or Wyoming, where Niue’s offshore industry eventually moved to, to experience the same pressure however. Browbeating tiny island nations will prove easy enough. Cajoling the world’s foremost superpower into cleaning up its own affairs won’t.
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