A film review by Mathew D. Rose and David Shirreff
Should you be having difficulties making sense of the “Paradise Papers” or simply not know much about tax havens, then Michael Oswald’s documentary film “The Spider’s Web: Britain’s second empire” is the ideal place to begin. The film, which premiered just a few months ago, tells the story of how tax havens came into existence, how and what they do, and why, despite their socially destructive business model, they continue to thrive.
The narrative begins after World War II when the United Kingdom loses its colonies. The City of London, once the financial heart of the British Empire, finding its existence threatened by the dissolution of empire, transforms itself into a global financial centre. Using some of Britain’s remaining territories, especially small islands in the Caribbean; the City establishes offshore secrecy jurisdictions, where money can be surreptitiously deposited before flowing to the City of London. The tax havens became magnets for dirty money, be it from drugs, corruption, or tax evasion, to name a few. The film explains the magic of the financial trust, which allows beneficiaries to be hidden from public view
Tax havens have been a phenomenal success for those dealing in international finance, money laundering, in fact anyone working in the financial sector, including lawyers, bankers and accountants. It is estimated that up to 30 trillion dollars are deposited offshore, most of which is owned by 1 percent of the world’s population. Of this, 25 percent of international finance is conducted on British territory; 50 percent of the secrecy jurisdictions in the world fly the British flag; and half of the world’s offshore wealth could well be hidden in British tax havens. Financial services have become the source of wealth for Britain’s elite, to the detriment of the people of the UK and the world.
Based on Nick Shaxson’s book Treasure Islands, relates the story of post-colonial wealth extraction; how a colonial power transformed itself into a financial power. The creation of tax havens was not the work of a few rogue individuals, but a concerted project created and initiated by the British elite in finance and government. There was a wholesale deregulation of international finance in the City, which then attracted banks from all over the world taking advantage of this loophole.
Oswald manages to transform this complicated, arcane, seemingly dry topic, despite an extremely limited budget – the author speaks of £ 4,000 – into a suspenseful und entertaining film. He had a battery of experts from Tax Justice Network not only supporting him with content, but they also appear in the film to explain the more difficult aspects.
The film ends with a list of five measures which it maintains would begin to unscramble the web of deception woven by financiers, accounting firms and colluding politicians:
- Stop public councils from issuing private contracts to companies operating out of tax havens.
- Create public registers of beneficial owners of companies, trusts, and foundations.
- Introduce full transparency of deals and secret agreements between companies and governments.
- Introduce public country by country reporting by multinational companies.
- Introduce automatic information exchange between all countries.
To view the trailer click here
To see where there are screenings in Europe and the USA click here
To organise a screening interested parties can email Michael directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
The press pack is here
The poster link is here