Troubled Waters Ahead for These Offshore Havens; Diving, but Less Ducking: The Tax Regime Won't Be So Relaxed for the Caymans in Future

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 9, 2008 | Go to article overview

Troubled Waters Ahead for These Offshore Havens; Diving, but Less Ducking: The Tax Regime Won't Be So Relaxed for the Caymans in Future


Byline: SIMON ENGLISH

A FEW years ago, to escape the tyranny of a different newspaper, I moved to the Cayman Islands the hedge fund and hurricane capital of the world.

The plan was simple: befriend the police, the governor and some seedy offshore finance types while learning to dive and becoming an expert on cocktails that hold little umbrellas.

After a couple of years, I'd emerge with some tax-free cash in the bank and enough material for a popcorn novel that was bound to be turned into a dreadful movie. As presumably the only reporter in what is a tiny country, every story would be an exclusive.

I arrived to discover that at least two other jokers one from the Wall Street Journal, one from the South China Morning Post had had the exact same idea. We'd sit in government press conferences scowling at each other. For the next 12 months, almost nothing happened.

A new restaurant opened, another one shut. There was a big shark just off Seven-Mile Beach once.

There was a hum of low-level corruption, but it felt no different to the average UK local council. As for financial crime, clearly far more was occurring on Wall Street and in the City.

The islands' tax-haven status hinted at scandal, but the hedge funds who made it their official home while working from offices in Mayfair did so legally. I flipped through documents filed by the funds at the Grand Cayman court and found little. That was the whole point: they didn't have to disclose much about their operations. Gripped by profound boredom, I returned home in search of a harder life.

Last week a Caymanian friend emailed: "Where are you? This place has gone nuts." A summary of recent events: Police chief Stuart Kernohan has been sacked for "unauthorised absence" and "inappropriate action", having been suspended amid a wider probe of corruption allegations.

Other top cops remain suspended. Kernohan, a former chief inspector with the Strathclyde force who hit the headlines because of a relationship with a murder witness, is in turn demanding damages from Governor Stuart Jack for bringing his good name into disrepute.

A senior officer from the Met in London has been drafted in to investigate various allegations, including the suggestion of a corrupt relationship between the police and a local jailbird-turned-media magnate. …

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