One year after the ’Pandora Papers’, we look back at Éric Toussaint’s testimony before the Ecuadorian National Assembly

Éric Toussaint (CADTM): “The president is outside the law. Guillermo Lasso directly or indirectly owns companies in tax havens”

1 November 2022 by Eric Toussaint , Fátima Martín


“The President is outside the law. Guillermo Lasso owned and still directly or indirectly owns companies in tax havens”. So said Eric Toussaint, spokesperson for the CADTM, before the Committee on Constitutional Guarantees, Human Rights, Collective Rights and Interculturality of the National Assembly of the Republic of Ecuador, when President Guillermo Lasso appeared in the ’Pandora Papers’ hearing, a global investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which has shed light on the use of tax havens by wealthy and powerful individuals, including politicians, businessmen, sportsmen and artists [1].



A year after this revelation, Guillermo Lasso, is still in power, not only has he not been brought to justice, but the rejection of his government’s policies provoked an 18 days National Strike in June 2022 led by the indigenous movement that forced the government to back down, despite harsh repression that left six dead and hundreds injured [2]. With a very low popularity rating of 17%, the worst rated President in Latin America according to Gallup [3], the same Lasso who despises the law is now pushing for a referendum to change the constitution.

In the following video, Eric Toussaint, who appeared before the Ecuadorian National Assembly on 23 October 2021 via videoconference, recalls the Ecuadorian law implementing the February 2017 popular consultation on tax havens and explains why the legal implications of the Pandora Papers for the Ecuadorian president are obvious and should provoke his resignation or impeachment. Below is the transcript of his speech.

With a very low popularity rating of 17%, Latin America’s worst-rated president, Guillermo Lasso, has broken the law and is pushing for a referendum to change the constitution

Toussaint began by referring to an opinion published in Newsweek, in which congressman for Arizona Raúl M. Grijalva, called on the US authorities to support the initiative of the Ecuador National Assembly and to take action against tax havens in the United States [4]: "In the case of the Pandora Papers and in the specific case of President Guillermo Lasso, it is mainly the state of South Dakota that is concerned, but also Delaware and Wyoming. These are states of the United States that have specialized in attracting companies and private bank deposits. Companies are set up with the sole activity of making tax returns, the profits are very minimally taxed ensuring the maximum opacity of financial movements. In view of the interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. from Newsweek and from an American parliamentarian, it is clear that the decision of the National Assembly of Ecuador to create this Commission provoked very positive reactions all over the world. In Europe, major media such as the French newspaper Le Monde, for example, have highlighted the importance of this initiative.

“What are tax havens used for? They are used to organise tax evasion and capital flight. Billions of dollars escape the tax authorities of many countries every year. As a result, states that are victims of this large-scale tax evasion are short of tax revenues and must borrow to finance their budgets and current expenditure. The issue of tax havens is a central issue for all the countries of the world, for all the peoples of the world, because the loss of revenue can have enormous structural consequences, especially in the situation of multidimensional crisis we are currently experiencing, with a pandemic, an economic crisis, an ecological crisis, etc.”

Screen shot relative to Banisi presented by the member of parliament Pamela Aguirre

States that are victims of this large-scale tax evasion are short of tax revenues and must borrow to finance their budgets and current expenditure

"Governments need to mobilize a lot of money, without it they cannot deal adequately with these huge crises from which millions, billions of human beings are suffering, while a small minority are getting extraordinarily rich by doubtful means.

Éric Toussaint then referred to the law implementing the 2017 popular consultation on tax havens [5]. The law of February 2017 on tax havens is applicable to the President of the Republic. The law states that those who hold public office or who intend to hold public office cannot hold a direct or indirect interest in assets or capital in tax havens. The law also makes it clear in the transitional provision, that is, in the text of the law itself, that transfers to relatives up to the fourth degree will not be valid. So, analyzing the situation of the President’s companies, before the 2017 elections, but also after, I believe that the President has not complied with the law. Guillermo Lasso had or has, directly or indirectly, interests in companies in tax havens: Panama, South Dakota, Delaware, maybe in others. Which company directly or indirectly? The Banisi bank based in Panama, Banderilla and the Pietro Overseas company.

Screen shot relative to Banisi presented by the member of parliament Pamela Aguirre

Guillermo Lasso had or has, directly or indirectly, interests in companies in tax havens: Panama, South Dakota, Delaware

The Pandora documents provide a list of companies updated to 2017. The direct link between Mr Guillermo Lasso and Pietro Overseas is proven. In September 2020, Pietro Overseas, a company that still exists, obtained the agreement of the Superintendence of Banks of the Republic of Panama for the transfer of shares between different companies of Pietro Overseas, Banisi and Banderilla“, confirmed by a transfer agreement (see screen shot illustration).”It remains to be determined exactly who, among Guillermo Lasso as such and his family members, is still a shareholder in these companies. It is public knowledge that sixty percent of the deposits in the Banisi Bank are held by Ecuadorian citizens. They are not workers, they are not peasants, they are not indigenous people who deposit a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. They are rich people who deposit money in this bank instead of depositing it directly in financial companies, in banks in Ecuador. So I think that this is a case that needs to be investigated thoroughly and I think that this is in contradiction with the 2017 law, in contradiction with the statements that President Guillermo Lasso made to the press recently, going so far as to refuse to appear before this Commission”.

Furthermore, Éric Toussaint considered that “this should be seen in the light of the proposed tax amnesty law [6] presented by President Guillermo Lasso in September 2021. I understand that this proposal was rejected by the National Assembly [7]. It consisted of allowing wealthy Ecuadorians who had deposited assets outside the country, including in tax havens, to legally repatriate them and pay only 5% tax. I know of several amnesty laws in different countries, but 5% to get amnesty is incredible, it clearly shows the orientation of the President who introduced this law. Furthermore, Ecuadorian citizens should know that the 95 or 99% of the Ecuadorian population who are not in a situation to have capital to hide abroad would not be affected by this law. It is a tiny minority that seeks to launder the sums produced from systematic tax evasion. In the case of Guillermo Lasso and other Ecuadorian citizens, this looks like a self-amnesty law. And it is directly related to the Pandora Papers revelations. To me, it is indirect evidence of the interest of the President and a small minority in the country that supports him to legalize the illegal. I think everyone can understand that and it is very serious”.

Concisely, according to this debt expert, “with regard to the Pandora Papers investigation, the legal implications in many countries are not obvious, except, very clearly, in Ecuador. In other countries, there is no equivalent law to the Ecuadorian law of 2017. Elsewhere, those who use tax havens can claim perhaps that they recognise their use is objectionable and unfair, but, and this is their main point, it is not illegal, whereas in the case of civil servants or public officials in Ecuador, in an exemplary way, it is illegal. So if you, as a National Assembly, could enforce the law, it would be a very important example, a very positive example to the World. International public opinion would see Ecuador as a very positive example.”

If you, as a National Assembly, could enforce the law, it would be a very important example, a very positive example to the World.

Finally, the spokesperson for the CADTM said: "One of my areas of study, apart from tax evasion and tax havens, is the issue of debt. I have already indicated that there is a link between tax revenue losses and public borrowing in order to finance the budget. The same who send their capital to the United States, or to other foreign countries, use it to buy the foreign debt of their own country and receive the interest paid by their own State to the holders of the securities. They are the same who avoid paying taxes on their capital and, because of their holdings of their own country’s bonds, are against auditing its debt, whether domestic or foreign, refusing to question the dogma that debts should always be paid. When the state has trouble paying it may be forced to borrow from the International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

http://imf.org
(IMF) and accept its conditions, which involve more neoliberal counter-reforms, more privatisations and measures such as increasing mining and extraction, the exploitation of natural resources to export raw materials, in order to have the foreign currency, so as to repay the external debt. It’s a vicious circle. The elements of this vicious circle are tax evasion, tax havens, foreign debt, illegitimate debt, illegal debt and odious debt Odious Debt According to the doctrine, for a debt to be odious it must meet two conditions:
1) It must have been contracted against the interests of the Nation, or against the interests of the People, or against the interests of the State.
2) Creditors cannot prove they they were unaware of how the borrowed money would be used.

We must underline that according to the doctrine of odious debt, the nature of the borrowing regime or government does not signify, since what matters is what the debt is used for. If a democratic government gets into debt against the interests of its population, the contracted debt can be called odious if it also meets the second condition. Consequently, contrary to a misleading version of the doctrine, odious debt is not only about dictatorial regimes.

(See Éric Toussaint, The Doctrine of Odious Debt : from Alexander Sack to the CADTM).

The father of the odious debt doctrine, Alexander Nahum Sack, clearly says that odious debts can be contracted by any regular government. Sack considers that a debt that is regularly incurred by a regular government can be branded as odious if the two above-mentioned conditions are met.
He adds, “once these two points are established, the burden of proof that the funds were used for the general or special needs of the State and were not of an odious character, would be upon the creditors.”

Sack defines a regular government as follows: “By a regular government is to be understood the supreme power that effectively exists within the limits of a given territory. Whether that government be monarchical (absolute or limited) or republican; whether it functions by “the grace of God” or “the will of the people”; whether it express “the will of the people” or not, of all the people or only of some; whether it be legally established or not, etc., none of that is relevant to the problem we are concerned with.”

So clearly for Sack, all regular governments, whether despotic or democratic, in one guise or another, can incur odious debts.
.

At the end of the hearing, which lasted about an hour, Deputy Eitel Zambrano (CREO) asked: “Do you know how long it has been since there has been an audit of the external and internal debt here in Ecuador? When was the last one? To which Toussaint replied:”Under Lenín Moreno there was a masquerade of an audit. The last audit with independent experts and, of course, the Court of Accounts, as well as the participation of citizens to complement the work of the Comptroller of the Republic, was the Public Credit Audit Commission (CAIC) of Ecuador, of which I was a member, in 2007-2008.” [8]

For more on Ecuador’s political evolution between 2006 and 2021, see Ecuador: From Rafael Correa to Guillermo Lasso via Lenin Moreno
https://www.cadtm.org/Ecuador-From-Rafael-Correa-to-Guillermo-Lasso-via-Lenin-Moreno

On how the 2007-2008 debt audit was conducted, see the video: The Ecuador debt audit, a seven minute summary https://www.cadtm.org/Video-The-Ecuador-debt-audit-a

For more on Guillermo Lasso’s business dealings, see (in Spanish) the article by Andrés Arauz, former Presidential candidate of the Republic of Ecuador in the 2021 elections:

https://financialtransparency.org/ecuador-y-los-papeles-de-pandora-amenazas-e-impunidad/

and the book Los Paraísos de Pandora ; capitalismo, corrupción, violencias:

https://www.cadtm.org/Libros-Los-Paraisos-de-Pandora-capitalismo-corrupcion-violencias


Translated by Mike Krolikowski and Christine Pagnoulle

Footnotes

[1Pandora Papers. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. See: https://www.icij.org/investigations/pandora-papers/

[210 dialogues with defamations by Lasso. (18/07/2022) conaie.org See in Spanish: https://conaie.org/2022/07/18/asi-se-realiza-el-dialogo-entre-el-movimiento-indigena-y-el-gobierno-nacional/

[3CID GALLUP: Lasso es el Presidente peor calificado de América Latina (Lasso is the Latin American President with the lowest support). (14/10/2022) Confirmado.net. See here in Spanish: https://confirmado.net/2022/10/14/cid-gallup-lasso-es-el-presidente-peor-calificado-de-america-latina/

[4Grijalva, Raúl M. (21/10/21) “It’s Time to End an Ugly U.S. Legacy. Stop Tax Evasion at Home and Abroad”. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/its-time-end-ugly-us-legacy-stop-tax-evasion-home-abroad-opinion-1641450

[5Ley para la Aplicación de la Consulta Popular 2017 Paraísos Fiscales. (04/09/2017) docplayer.es https://docplayer.es/201699752-Ley-para-la-aplicacion-de-la-consulta-popular-2017-paraisos-fiscales.html (in Spanish)

[6The so-called Tax Sustainability Law (in this article it is identified as a tax amnesty), which contains provisions that are detrimental to a large part of Ecuadorian society, including the elimination of the prohibitions contained in the 2017 Law on the Prohibition of Holding Assets and Monetary Funds in Tax Havens, came into force at the end of 2021, after questionable manipulations and arrangements.

[7On 26 November, the government issued an official statement, informing that the economic reform would come into effect through the”Ministry of Law". On Monday 29 November 2021, the law was published in the Official Gazette and came into force on 1 January 2022. See https://wambra.ec/reforma-tributaria-para-el-01-por-ciento (in Spanish)

[8Final Report of the Integral Auditing of the Ecuadorian Debt - Executive Summary September 2008, https://www.cadtm.org/Final-Report-of-the-Integral

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

Fátima Martín

est journaliste, membre du CADTM et de la PACD, la Plateforme d’Audit Citoyen de la Dette en Espagne (http://auditoriaciudadana.net/). Elle est l’auteure, avec Jérôme Duval, du livre Construcción europea al servicio de los mercados financieros, Icaria editorial 2016. Elle développe le journal en ligne FemeninoRural.com.

Other articles in English by Fátima Martín (7)

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