Connect with us

Investigations

Tax chemicals industry to help curb pollution internationally, experts propose

Avatar

Published

on

An international group of environmentalists and lawyers is pushing for a tax on manufacturers to finance the safer management and disposal of chemicals across borders.

The Center for International Environmental Law and the International Pollutants Elimination Network submitted the proposal last month to an international forum under the umbrella of the UN Environment Programme.

More than 100 governments, civil society groups and inter-governmental organizations have committed to achieving the goal of better chemical safety by 2020 under the Strategic Approach to International Management initiative, adopted almost two decades ago.

Experts from the environmental groups have proposed a 0.5% tax, or “polluter-pays fee,” on more than 30 basic chemicals which would generate about $11.5 billion annually. That’s 85 times the sum currently estimated to finance waste management and cleanup globally, according to their report.

In the Nov. 9 online briefing, IPEN senior adviser Joe DiGangi told participants that the idea behind the proposal is a lesson “we have all learned as children, which is that we should clean up our own mess.”

“The industry should pay for the true cost of its products,” which includes pollution as well as health costs associated with chemicals that are known to disrupt normal hormone production in humans, DiGangi said.

In 2018, global sales of basic chemicals ー considered the building blocks of products such as plastics, fertilizers or pesticides ー totaled $2.3 trillion, according to estimates by the American Chemistry Council.

In comparison, in 2017, the industry reported spending $14 billion for what it calls “environmental, health and safety,” which includes hazardous waste cleanup and pollution abatement.

That is not enough to pay for the monitoring, control and disposal of the chemicals, which also requires infrastructure and personnel, the environmentalists said.

The American Chemistry Council didn’t respond to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ request for comment. The International Council of Chemical Associations said it does not support mandatory industry contributions, Chemical Watch reported.

The European Chemical Industry Council didn’t comment on the specifics of the proposal but a spokeswoman said the European industry supports “global voluntary initiatives promoting the sound management of chemicals” and takes “exposure to hazardous substances” seriously.

According to the World Health Organization’s most recent estimates, 1.6 million people died in 2016 due to exposures to a number of chemicals. Still, it’s difficult to assess the real scale of the problem because many chemicals produced by companies are not known, the WHO report said.

It’s inexplicable why countries with strapped budgets are asked to pay for this.
— Nathaniel Eisen,  Center for International Environmental Law

Just this month, officials in New Jersey, U.S., sued chemical giant Solvay alleging the Belgian company had released toxic compounds into water, soil, and air near its facility for years, and prevented the state from publishing data on the health effects associated with its chemicals. The state has already paid $3 million for cleanup, the state said in a 2019 directive.

A Solvay spokesperson said in an email to ICIJ that the allegations are “inaccurate, overly broad, and meritless,” and that the company is “committed” to investigating and remediating impacts caused by synthetic chemicals known as PFAS which are “scientifically attributable” to its New Jersey facility. The case is pending.

Claiming the protection of trade secrets, chemical manufacturers often use potentially polluting compounds for years before scientists and regulators learn of the dangers and are able to intervene.

Last year, a report by a German environmental charity found that major cosmetics, medicine and plastic producers, including top selling companies like BASF and INEOS, were breaking European laws by using millions of tons of chemicals without completing important safety checks. The industry’s trade organization responded to the findings saying companies are already working on the issues highlighted in the report.

A “no-brainer” for countries in need

If rich nations such as the U.S. or EU member states struggle to monitor companies and finance cleanup, the environmentalists said, the situation is worse in countries with fewer resources.

What’s more, “due to the global nature of supply chains and trade … chemical producers are often not subject to taxation or regulation in the countries where pollution control is needed,” their report says.

The new fee they proposed would be based on the volume of chemicals manufactured ー not on sales ー in order to account for transfers that may occur without recorded sales.

Governments would gather the tax in a global reserve, which would be redistributed among participating countries, prefrencing those with fewer resources which are often on the receiving end of the pollutants.

This could fund poison centers, registries of chemicals and of pollutants released into the environment, and other initiatives currently subsidized with public money, according to Nathaniel Eisen, CIEL’s legal fellow.

It’s a “no-brainer,” Eisen said. “It’s inexplicable why countries with strapped budgets are asked to pay for this.”

A statement by South Africa’s Environment Minister Barbara Creecy in June highlighted less wealthy countries’ need for “sufficient, predictable and sustainable resources” and for manufacturers’ “impactful role” in the management of chemicals they profit from.

As a continent that imports chemicals, she wrote, Africa “continues to be on the receiving end of the injustices borne from unsound management of chemicals through their life cycle and the chemical industry’s practices of putting profit before human and environment[al] health.”

Creecy, who also leads a group of African environment ministers, made the remarks in a letter to Gertrud Sahler, the president of the International Conference on Chemicals Management, which regularly reviews the proposals advanced as part of the U.N. initiative on chemicals safety.

Sahler told ICIJ that “it is clear that developing countries need significant support” and that an internationally coordinated tax such as the one proposed could provide the necessary funding.

“However, its implementation depends mainly on the willingness of producer countries and requires a new orientation in policy-making at national level. I don’t expect this to happen soon,” Sahler wrote in an email.

The groups behind the proposal have identified 10 countries as main basic chemicals producers, and potential contributors to the fund.  They have also begun discussing it with some governments, they said.

Independent experts consulted by ICIJ shared enthusiasm about the proposal while acknowledging the challenges it faces, including politicians’ unwillingness to raise taxes on powerful corporations.

Despite that, such a proposal has a “huge” value because it raises awareness about the problem, according to Jacqueline Cottrell, an environmental fiscal policy consultant.

“It’s really important that … we keep thinking about how we can have a better global governance system for taxation for industry,” Cottrell said.

Past research has shown how some of the largest chemical producers such as the German giant BASF or the American company DuPont have used sophisticated tax planning strategies to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in the countries where they operate.

In the U.S. alone, the industry enjoyed one of the lowest effective federal tax rates in 2018, paying a tax rate of just 4.4%, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Representatives of NGOs and governments who adhere to the UN’s Strategic Approach initiative are scheduled to meet in July 2021 to discuss the new global chemicals framework.

Know more? Contact reporter Scilla Alecci at [email protected] or contact us securely.

The post Tax chemicals industry to help curb pollution internationally, experts propose appeared first on ICIJ.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Comments

Election Integrity

Analyzing the Case for Election Fraud

Despite the overwhelming pressure, if you can’t help but feel that tingling sense of knowing that is telling you there’s more to the story, you are not alone. In fact, according to a new Rassmussen poll, nearly 50% of voters believe the election had issues. A quick look at the data blatantly shows that indeed, shenanigans abound (how can a state have 1+ million more mail-in ballots tallied than they sent out?). But was it fraud or masterful gamesmanship?

Adryenn Ashley

Published

on

Mail In Ballot
Prev1 of 8
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

The world, or at least the global media, has spoken: Biden won the 2020 Election.

UPDATED FREQUENTLY WITH NEW INFORMATION – Last update 12/21/2020

A quick Google search reveals pages upon pages of reports of why the Trump team’s assertions of vote fraud and election fraud and vote flipping are flat out fallacies. YouTube has announced a ban on any videos questioning the election results. And now on Monday all 538 electors have voted, formalizing Biden’s 306-232 win. And while there is still Congress to get through, and the inauguration, based on social media and television news and practically every other point of information bombarding society today, Biden is now the President-elect.

But why now, after Government officials confirmed during Senate testimony that a foreign adversary, Russia, attempted to interfere in the 2016 United States Presidential Election via “a multi-faceted approach intended to undermine confidence in our democratic process.” According to U.S. intelligence official reports, Russia targeted voter registration databases in at least 21 states and sought to infiltrate the networks of voting equipment vendors, political parties, and at least one local election board. And if their purpose was not so much to “hack” the election but create chaos and sow seeds of uncertainty around our election process, I would say they have won. But what if this cycle, it was Russia who somehow manipulated extra ballots and placed the blame on the Democrats? What if…?

Russian Experience With Voter Fraud

The 2004 presidential election in Ukraine saw suspiciously high turnout rates that “even Stalinist North Korea would envy,” the State Department declared!

Back then, the U.S. government decried as corrupt an earlier election where special voting boxes were created to help citizens vote from home, election observers were expelled from vote counts, pre-election polls were wildly off, and voter turnout in certain communities exceeded 90%.

But the story of that Ukrainian election as recounted by then-Ambassador John Tefft to a Senate committee in December 2004 raises a tantalizing question for voters distrustful of the Nov. 3 elections results in our own 2020 Presidential Election: If tactics and outcomes in the Ukrainian election back then were enough to cry foul, why can’t Americans debate similar concerns here?

Tefft’s testimony raises an important question: Should America, the greatest democracy in the world, share any of the fraudulent attributes of a Ukrainian election? The answer for most Americans is hopefully resounding “No.”

And despite continued and repeated headlines that there was no fraud, according to the Harvard Kenney School report on Election Integrity this cycle, expert assessments indicate that compared with 2016, the performance of this contest displays several warning flags, namely worsening confidence in the integrity of American elections and falling public trust, challenges to legitimacy arising from threats of campaign violence,legal disputes about the process and results, and public protests about the outcome, as well as growing attempts at voter suppression. 

Prev1 of 8
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Continue Reading

Investigations

Advocates celebrate major US anti-money laundering victory

Landmark laws to thwart the use of U.S. shell companies by terrorists, human traffickers, arms dealers and kleptocrats are set to be enacted after more than a decade of lobbying and politicking with rare bipartisan support.

Avatar

Published

on

Advocates celebrate major US anti-money laundering victory

The sweeping anti-money laundering reforms hitched a lift in the annual defense spending bill that passed the Senate 84-13 today, and was approved by the House 355-78 earlier this week.

The Corporate Transparency Act requires U.S. companies to report their true owners to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN — largely ending anonymous shell companies in the country.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has repeatedly documented how the rich, the powerful and the criminal have used anonymous entities to hide their wealth, including in the 2016 Panama Papers and the 2020 FinCEN Files investigations.

Welcoming the clampdown, Transparency International’s U.S. director Gary Kalman said, “It is rare for such a simple measure to promise such an enormous impact.” Kalman added that the long sought anti-corruption reforms would “move us into a new era of enforcement.”

The new legislation will allow law enforcement agencies and financial institutions to request company ownership information from FinCEN. The data will not be publicly available.

FinCEN Files was based on a trove of suspicious activity reports filed by banks and other financial institutions to FinCEN. BuzzFeed News obtained the secret documents and shared them with ICIJ and more than 100 other media organizations.

The global investigation exposed how a broken U.S.-led enforcement system allows banks to continue to profit from moving dirty money tied to drug cartels, trafficking rings fueling the opioid crisis, fraud, organized crime, sanctions evasion, ruinous real estate schemes, and terrorism.

“Too many times, people … think money laundering is a federal, victimless crime. It is certainly not that,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Senate banking committee, told reporters on a call organized by the advocacy group the FACT Coalition. “Sinaloa cartel actors, fentanyl traffickers have been destroying thousands of families in my state and across the country.”

Earlier this year, Brown credited FinCEN Files for revealing the lack of forceful enforcement against banks that repeatedly violate the law. Advocates said a number of proposed bipartisan bills, including one co-sponsored by Brown, were instrumental in generating the support needed to attach the reforms to the spending bill.

“This is a really big deal to get this passed,” Brown said Thursday. “No more hiding these abuses in anonymous shell companies. It also cracks down on bank officials who look the other way or actively aid money laundering.”

A long time coming

ICIJ has shown how offshore shell companies have been used for dubious financial dealings and tax avoidance through a series of global exposés, including the Secrecy for Sale investigation, Panama Papers and Paradise Papers. U.S. lawmakers have repeatedly cited the investigations in proposing reforms over the years.

Countries like the United Kingdom, Indonesia and members of the European Union also took steps toward ending anonymous shell companies in response to ICIJ reporting.

“When the Panama Papers leaked, there was a huge flurry of interest because there’s all of a sudden this recognition that it was kleptocrats, money launderers, corrupt officials the world over, as well as criminals, were all using a very common structure to help evade law enforcement, which was setting up an anonymous company,” Lakshmi Kumar, policy director of Global Financial Integrity, said.

The phenomenon is not limited to the exotic offshore tax havens of popular imagination. U.S. jurisdictions like Delaware, Wyoming and Nevada are among the world’s top locations to set up anonymous companies. Legislation to require corporations to disclose their true owners was first proposed in the U.S. over a decade ago, co-sponsored by then-senator Barack Obama, and similar bills have been introduced over the years.

Advocates credit years of lobbying a broad coalition of stakeholders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which had previously been a leading opponent, in getting the reforms across the finish line this year.

“What’s changed now is a growing understanding among various constituencies about the harms that anonymous companies pose, and the threats that they pose for our financial system, to our businesses,” Clark Gascoigne, senior policy advisor at FACT Coalition, said.

But it’s not a done deal quite yet.

Although the anti-money laundering proposals have had the support of the administration, President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act over provisions unrelated to financial secrecy.

Both the House and the Senate votes surpassed the two-thirds margin that would be needed to override a veto, although some Republicans have indicated that they would not support what would be the first veto override of the Trump presidency.

But the NDAA has been reliably passed by Congress every year for six decades and advocates are confident that the time has come for the landmark financial transparency measure that’s included in the omnibus bill.

“It’s one of the few areas where the outgoing Trump administration agrees with the incoming Biden administration,” Gascoigne said. “It may be the first bill in the history of Congress that has the support of both Dow Chemical and Friends of the Earth. Heck, the state of Delaware even supports reform.”

The post Advocates celebrate major US anti-money laundering victory appeared first on ICIJ.

Continue Reading

Investigations

Muslim Brotherhood suspect and Saudi billionaire linked to same offshore companies, Austrian report says

Avatar

Published

on

One of 30 people in Austria suspected to be members of the Islamic fundamentalist group Muslim Brotherhood was the director of offshore companies linked to a Saudi billionaire, according to an investigation by Austrian media outlets profil and Ö1.

The man, described as a 37-year-old Viennese entrepreneur with Iraqi roots, is suspected of “participating in a terrorist, subversive and criminal organization” and was a target of the police investigation into the group and the Palestinian extremist organization Hamas, the report said

The inquiry, which led 930 officers to raid 60 apartments, shops and clubs in four federal states last month, had no connection to the Vienna terror attack that killed four and injured 23 on November 2, according to officials cited by Deutsche Welle.

The Austrian report ー based on police records ー does not name the suspect, nor the Saudi businessman, for fear of hampering the ongoing probe into possible terror financing.

The pair’s link to shell companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore financial centers was revealed for the first time after the reporters’ examination of Paradise Papers, a trove of leaked documents obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2017.

The 13.4 million files include incorporation documents, emails, contracts and other records from two offshore service providers and the company registries of some of the world’s most secretive countries.

The Austrian man was listed as the director of several companies in the BVI, Malta and the Bahamas, the media report said. His address on the documents referred to an apartment in Vienna that belongs to the wife of one of the main suspects in the police investigation, according to a review of Austria’s land registry records.

By cross-checking the confidential files with property records, the reporters also found that the shell companies owned properties in the U.K., including two office buildings, a commercial property and a retail park, worth about $73 million in total.

The documents show that a Liechtenstein trust owned by the Saudi businessman was behind those companies. The man is also known as a philanthropist who has financed Islamic studies at various European universities in recent years, including in Austria, the report added.

The complex offshore structure identified by the journalists is legal, the report said, but “can be used to disguise the flow of money and the identity of the true economic beneficiaries.”

Profil and Ö1, two ICIJ media partners in Austria, asked the Viennese suspect about the purpose of the offshore company network and his link with the Saudi billionaire. A lawyer representing him declined to comment.

The post Muslim Brotherhood suspect and Saudi billionaire linked to same offshore companies, Austrian report says appeared first on ICIJ.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement