Russia’s economy may not have much to boast of these days, but it has produced one of the world’s largest crops of billionaires. Only the U.S., Germany and Japan have more. Considering the modest size of the Russian economy these days, Russia may well have the highest billionaire-to-GDP ratio in the world.
How can this be, in a nation that until recently has been on the decline?
Russia’s flawed transition from communism to a market economy in the 1990s was one of the most mishandled reforms in history. The country’s GDP declined by 41%, vast swaths of the economy were simply wiped out and the majority of the population was plunged into poverty. In the midst of this chaos a small group of insiders (nick-named the “oligarchs”) figured out how to buy the bulk of the country’s natural resources from the state at nominal prices.
The 1990s asset grab did not make the oligarchs instant billionaires-only potential ones. Potential wealth has been transformed into real wealth only in the last several years, when many of the oligarchs forswore their old pirate-capitalist ways and began paying attention to building shareholder value.
The Panama Papers leak contained more than 11.5 million documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which revealed widespread tax avoidance.
More information was expected to be publicly released in the coming days, which Professor Henry said is a good opportunity for further analysis.
"So far it's been used by the ICIJ consortium of, you know, about 370 journalist have had access just to the data for a year ago or so; now it's going to be opened up," he said.
"And I think that will be very valuable because there's a lot of new kind of analysis to be done.
"As good as the journalists are, you know, they're just not as familiar with all of the intricacies is the 214,000 companies that were involved here."
Professor Henry has called for an international commission to investigate global tax avoidance and capital flight.
"If one Panamanian law firm with just 500 employers, $42 million of revenue can produce this kind of information, you know, think of what revelations about many of the other players in the world including some of the top banks would show."
More than $12tn (£8tn) has been siphoned out of Russia, China and other emerging economies into the secretive world of offshore finance, new research has revealed, as David Cameron prepares to host world leaders for an anti-corruption summit.
A detailed 18-month research project has uncovered a sharp increase in the capital flowing offshore from developing countries, in particular Russia and China.
The analysis, carried out by Columbia University professor James S Henry for theTax Justice Network, shows that by the end of 2014, $1.3tn of assets from Russia were sitting offshore. The figures, which came from compiling and cross-checking data from global institutions including the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations, follow the Panama Papers revelations of global, systemic tax avoidance.
Chinese citizens have $1.2trln stashed away in tax havens, once estimates for Hong Kong and Macau are included. Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia – all of which have seen high-profile corruption scandals in recent years – also come high on the list of the worst-affected countries.
Henry, a former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey, told the Guardian his research underlined the fact that tax-dodging was not the only motivation for using tax havens – criminals and kleptocrats also made prolific use of their services to keep their wealth secret and their money safe.
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