David Cameron called on critics to stop “picking on” the UK’s overseas territories after it was claimed his “failure” to crack down on the UK-linked tax havens had overshadowed his international anti-corruption conference.
The London summit closed with a number of agreements from countries to increase transparency and crackdown on money-laundering networks.
Five countries confirmed they would be joining the UK in setting up fully public registers of company owners – a measure considered to be the ‘gold standard’ for exposing tax avoiders.
However, the Government has failed to secure agreements from all of its overseas territories and Crown Dependencies to adopt equally transparent measures.
The Oxfam charity, which campaigns for tax justice, welcomed the summit commitments, but said that Mr Cameron’s “failure” to “lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the UK’s own tax havens” undermined its goals.
Quoting Mr Cameron’s description of corruption as a “cancer”, chief executive Mark Goldring said: “If corruption is a cancer, then this summit has delivered some pain relief but not the major surgery needed to heal the global economy.
“Until tax havens are required to publish public registers showing who really profits from shell companies, the corruption and tax dodging revealed by the Panama Papers will continue undisturbed and millions of people in both the UK and the world’s poorest countries will pay the price.”
Responding to questions over UK-linked tax havens, Mr Cameron said they had become an “easy target” for critics and had already “moved a huge amount of distance”, with agreements to hold central registers of beneficial ownership, and to share information with law enforcement agencies.
Mr Cameron said after the summit: "The gold standard - which I will push for so long as there is breath in my body - is for everybody to [introduce public registers] - not just picking on small islands but I'd like to see the United States of America, China, India, everyone.”
The summit also saw commitments from 11 new jurisdictions to join group of 29 countries, including the UK, that share information on companies’ true owners with one another.
Mr Cameron said the summit had “broken the taboo on talking about corruption”.
“Today we have seen the world unite against a shared enemy. Countries have gone further than ever before in condemning corruption and pledging to drive it out,” he said. “This battle will not be won overnight, but if we continue to show the courage and political will to stand against corruption that we have seen today, we can and will defeat it.”
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