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Crooked offshore high finance and dodgy deals for beginners

13 December, 2018 — By John Gulliver

A still from his film The Spider’s Web

I MUST have been the sort of man John Christensen likes to meet – that is, pretty ignorant about tax dodgers, money launderers, hedge fund managers, and derivative dealers. I know roughly what they get up to but not the tricky way they go about it.

It’s because of people like me that Christensen gets a kick out of answering Q&As from an audience. It makes him work out how to present his ideas in a simple way that people like me can understand.

By trade Christensen is a tax expert and heavy-duty economist who has had tax havens and their agents in his sights for years – partly, perhaps, because he was economics adviser to the government of Jersey.

He’s a leading light in the campaigning body Justice Network, which he helped to found.

And he has become so good as a communicator of abstruse ideas that he has branched out as a film maker.

And now he’s hit bull’s eye with his first film, The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire, a 74-minute documentary about offshore financial crooks.

Launched only two months ago it has already had one million viewers on YouTube.

A figures man, Christensen knows exactly when it hit the million mark – November 29, 3am.

Tax expert and economist John Christensen

Most of the registered view were in the UK but others were in the US and Australia.

He made it with colleagues on an extraordinary low budget of £4,000.

It was all done without professional actors but he knew he needed someone with a good voice for the narrator – and he found him in Andrew Piper. “A beautiful voice, and that cost a bit, but it was worth it,” he told me.

I was talking to him after he had shown the film in Canonbury, Islington, at a meeting organised on Thursday by the Islington Economics Discussion Group.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when he told me most of the questions after the show were on Brexit – at which point he gave me a quick lesson in high finance that got me thinking.

A No Deal Brexit would damage our economy enormously– and what most people don’t know, and that includes our MPs, he emphasised, is that the City would be particularly damaged..

Low-risk funding investments, he explained, can travel across from the City to the single EU market but “high risk” finance, and that’s where real money is made, has to come under World Trade regulations – which means deals have to have a “permanent” base within the EU so that they can be subject to proper regulations. And that means if there is a No Deal Brexit, City firms will find themselves moving to cities within the EU – Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin.

He also thought Japanese car companies, for instance, would move to the EU – probably to Poland and the Czech Republic where there is a skilled workforce.

The conversation this week was a welcome exercise in economics when the Establishment is in such disarray.


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