What the Panama Papers first illustrated and now the Paradise Papers further reinforces is that there is a global plutocratic and kleptocratic class that inhabits a world free from scrutiny or restraint. The papers show that these people and businesses are engaged in a massive tax evasion.avoidance and/or money laundering scheme on a scale that beggars belief and is largely unregulated by any legal authority.
The Panama Papers uncovered that fact that many of the world’s most corrupt leaders and those who were currently under varying sanctions were still able to hide their money offshore without much difficulty. But most of those documents covered tax avoidance and tax evasion. These latest Paradise Papers show just how these global kleptocrats manage to launder their ill-gotten monies into legitimate businesses, some of which are the most recognizable brands in the world.
It appears that Russian money was laundered through a Russian Silicon Valley entrepreneur in order to facilitate his early investment in both Facebook and Twitter. That same investor was also a partner with Jared Kushner in a real-estate firm called Cadre.
Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary supposedly divested his assets when he joined the administration but he still kept his stake in a company that does millions in business annually with Putin’s son-in-law. That stake was not reported on his financial disclosure form and was in a sense hidden by a trail of Cayman Islands companies. In addition, according to Forbes, Ross has apparently overstated his net worth by billions over the last decade.
The papers also show how the world’s largest companies use tax shelters in order to avoid paying taxes at home. They illustrate how Apple simply moved their shell companies to Jersey when Ireland started taking a tougher stance against international corporations and their tax avoidance schemes. Kushner and Ross and even Trump himself are representative of this global plutocracy in that they all seem to believe that the law is merely a reference point, but not necessarily something that needs to be followed to the letter. Kushner has consistently lied about his Russian contacts. He has had to revise his financial and security forms multiple times. As owner of the NY Observer, he would continually spike or demand stories about his friends in total violation of independent journalism. Ross explained to Forbes that the reason his financial disclosure forms were missing the around $2 billion that he professed to have was because he had transferred them to his children. But no transfer ever occurred, simply because the $2 billion never existed. The fact that Ross was probably worth $700 million just wasn’t enough; that is the mindset we are dealing with. According to a colleague in a statement also reflective of the plutocratic class, “Everybody does some cheating, everybody does some lying. Not everybody steals from their employees.” Wilbur Ross does. And that is the attitude of this kleptocrat class.
This is the same above-the law mindset that allows Harvey Weinstein to rape and abuse women from all over the world and then hire private investigators and high priced lawyers to ensure that those women’s stories would never see the light of day. The investigators posed as journalists or activists in order to talk to Weinstein’s victims and other reporters in order to glean information and attitudes about Weinstein’s assaults and then report back to Weinstein.
More importantly, I assume these overseas investments from Russian government-owned entities directly linked to Putin had to have flowed into some bank in the US in order to make their early investments in Facebook and Twitter. The question I have is how poor must banks’ anti-money laundering programs be that these were not flagged. And how could Facebook and Twitter, or at least their underwriters, be unaware of the source of that investment money.
Lastly, as Stephanie Ruhle pointed out multiple times yesterday, these tax avoidance schemes and Wilbur Ross’s shell company investments may look highly unethical but are probably legal. And Apple’s movement from Ireland to Jersey was merely maximizing shareholder value within the law. If we’re not going to change the laws to restrict these activities (and the current GOP tax bill does nothing to do that other than offer a massive tax break to those companies stashing money offshore), then it might be worth asking why we offer the protections of the American legal and financial system to people and business that are actively evading their social responsibilities as citizens.
And let’s be clear, this global plutocracy is only going to become more and more powerful and less and less accountable as artificial intelligence concentrates even more wealth among a smaller and smaller group of people. Bernie Sanders describes the situation perfectly when he says, “The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy. The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”