The Spider's Web: A Tax Heaven in the Heart of Britain
The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire, is a documentary, produced by John Christensen (co-founder of the Tax Justice Network) and directed by Michael Oswald, which shows how Britain transformed from a colonial power into a global financial power.
At the demise of empire, the City of London financial interests created a web of offshore secrecy jurisdictions that captured wealth from across the globe and hid it behind obscure financial structures in a web of offshore islands.
Today, up to half of the global offshore wealth may be hidden in British offshore jurisdictions and Britain and its overseas territories, such as Bermuda and the Caymans Islands, are the largest global players in the world of international finance.
The documentary investigates how this impacts the rest of the world. Sub-Saharan African countries lost over USD 1 trillion in capital flight and tax evasion between the 1970s and 2010; external debt was less than one-fifth of this, estimated at USD 177 billion. Most of this wealth flows into Western nations like USA and Britain and enables their currencies to stay strong while developing currencies stay weak.
Oswald interviews leading experts, academics, former insiders and campaigners for social justice and the use of stylised b-roll and archive footage, reveals how in the world of international finance, corruption and secrecy have prevailed over-regulation and transparency, and how the UK is right at the heart of this.
John Christensen, who is the former economic advisor to Jersey, began investigating into the role of tax haven in the globalised economy in 1978. Christensen joined a working group of Oxfam policy wonks in London who were unware about the unregulated financial markets.
"They were discussing the roots of poverty in resource-rich countries African and Latin American countries and had noticed huge unaccounted outflows of wealth from these continents, almost all of which appeared to head northwards to Europe and North America via offshore secrecy jurisdictions.
"While we didn’t fully understand the mechanisms that enabled these outflows, we had no doubt that the scale of capital flight was so enormous that it was thwarting the development of entire nations. We also had no doubt that the City of London was a major player in this process of looting poorer countries of their wealth and in protecting Britain’s secrecy jurisdiction satellites from political attempts – at the United Nations, for example – to rectify the policy and regulatory flaws that enabled capital flight and tax dodging on such an immense scale."
Nicholas Shaxson, a British author, journalist, and investigator wrote the acclaimed investigative book Treasure Islands, an exposé on the global consequences of tax havens. It describes in detail how nearly every multinational corporation has offshore subsidiaries (not counting those in London) and the biggest users of offshore finance are banks.
“In developing countries, the offshore system of tax havens has facilitated the looting of these countries by their elites….it has enabled them to steal the money and keep it safe somewhere else.”
Catch The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire premieres on Friday, 2nd of March.