What is a secrecy jurisdiction?

We use the term ‘secrecy jurisdiction’ interchangeably with the term ‘tax haven’ – depending on which aspect we want to emphasise. So for this project we generally prefer the term ‘secrecy jurisdiction.’ We sometimes use the term 'offshore financial centre' too.

There is no generally agreed definition of what tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions are: the phenomenon has many different aspects and no single definition can capture them all. For the purposes of the index, we employ the following working definition:

"A secrecy jurisdiction provides facilities that enable people or entities escape or undermine the laws, rules and regulations of other jurisdictions elsewhere, using secrecy as a prime tool."

For a more detailed exploration of the themes, see an article we published in Economic Geography, as well as a book chapter written by Markus Meinzer, and Richard Murphy’s Finding the Secrecy World. See also this description: "offshore is, almost by definition, a smoke-filled room," highlighting their 'captured state' character.

A ranking of jurisdictions by secrecy score is provided at the right hand side.

The Financial Secrecy Index focuses on secrecy (escape from disclosure) but these jurisdictions also often offer escape from tax, from financial regulation, from criminal laws, from corporate governance rules, from inheritance rules and more. The offshore system is an interconnected ecosystem of different jurisdictions offering different mixes of these escape facilities and of the various different 'flavours' of secrecy.

We have also found that secrecy jurisdictions tend to be 'captured states', where offshore financial services tends to be deliberately ring-fenced and insulated from domestic political opposition. Relevant laws and approaches to the industry are created by small numbers of professional insiders in the jurisdiction in collaboration with offshore financial services interests from elsewhere, with the civil service often providing little more than a rubber-stamping service. Most of our narrative reports for the larger secrecy jurisdictions find the 'captured state' phenomenon to be relevant, as does TJN's research into the so-called Finance Curse.

The business model of these places is the product of two apparently conflicting offerings or incentives to international owners of financial capital. The first is to convince them that the jurisdiction is safe, trustworthy and law-abiding. The second is to convince many of them that they will tolerate and protect law-breaking dirty money or abusive behaviour. Crudely put, the offshore offering is a message to the world's capital that "we will not steal your money, but we will turn a blind eye if you've stolen someone else's."

This perspective helps explain the apparent paradox that jurisdictions such as Switzerland or the UK are regularly ranked among the 'cleanest' and least corrupt in international corruption rankings - while also harbouring oceans of of dirty money.

Geography: the five groupings

Consider first how many rich Nigerians are likely to stash their wealth in Zurich - and then consider how many rich Swiss are likely to stash their wealth in Lagos. The answer is obvious. Secret capital almost always flows from poor to rich countries: overwhelmingly, the secrecy jurisdictions are located in rich countries. We loosely describe five main groupings (click on the countries to access their special reports outlining the histories and political economy of their offshore sectors.

  • The United States is a major secrecy jurisdiction in its own right. It has a couple of minor satellites: not just the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, for instance, but also Panama.
  • The United Kingdom also has a central role in the system and is arguably the most important player of all: it has responsibility for many of the biggest 'satellite' tax havens including Cayman Islands, Jersey, BVI, and Bermuda.
  • A third, continental European pole is also highly significant, and includes Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Cyprus, and Gibraltar inside the EU, as well as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and Andorra are also key European players: geographically inside Europe, but outside the EU itself.
  • Outside the orbit of the OECD countries, Asian havens - notably Singapore and Hong Kong but also Macau and Malaysia/Labuan - are another fast-rising aspect of the problem, though still relatively small when compared to some of the offshore giants noted above.
  • A few uncategorised others, exist which aren't obviously in the orbit of any particular power block. These include Dubai and Mauritius (both of which have strong Asian links, but are heavily used by Africans and others).
See also the Politics of Secrecy for further insights into what the offshore system is.

 

Ranking by secrecy score only.

Our main index is created by mathematically combining a secrecy score with a weighting. This ranking, however, strips out the weighting component.

ID Jurisdiction S/Score
1 Vanuatu (VU) 89
2 Antigua and Barbuda (-/-) 87
3 Bahamas (BS) 84
4 Paraguay (PY) 84
5 Brunei (BR) 84
6 United Arab Emirates (Dubai) (AE) 84
7 Maldives (MV) 81
8 Bolivia (BO) 80
9 Kenya (KE) 80
10 Thailand (TH) 80
11 Liberia (LR) 80
12 Liechtenstein (LI) 78
13 St. Lucia (LC) 78
14 Bahrain (BH) 78
15 Samoa (WS) 78
16 Anguilla (AI) 78
17 Monaco (MC) 78
18 Montserrat (MS) 78
19 Dominica (DM) 77
20 Puerto Rico (PR) 77
21 Grenada (GD) 77
22 Turks and Caicos Islands (TC) 77
23 St. Kitts and Nevis (KN) 77
24 Panama (PA) 77
25 Gambia (GM) 77
26 Switzerland (CH) 76
27 Aruba (AW) 76
28 Taiwan (TW) 76
29 Seychelles (SC) 75
30 Belize (BZ) 75
31 Curacao (CW) 75
32 Cook Islands (CK) 75
33 Barbados (BB) 74
34 Tanzania (TZ) 73
35 Guatemala (GT) 73
36 US Virgin Islands (VI) 73
37 Bermuda (BM) 73
38 Marshall Islands (MH) 73
39 Guernsey (GG) 72
40 Mauritius (MU) 72
41 Cayman Islands (KY) 72
42 Lebanon (LB) 72
43 Malaysia (Labuan) (MY) 72
44 Dominican Republic (DO) 72
45 Hong Kong (HK) 71
46 Gibraltar (GI) 71
47 St. Vincent and the Grenadines (VC) 70
48 Saudi Arabia (SA) 70
49 Ukraine (UA) 69
50 Botswana (BW) 69
51 British Virgin Islands (VG) 69
52 Costa Rica (CR) 69
53 Venezuela (VE) 69
54 Macao (MO) 68
55 Turkey (TR) 68
56 Singapore (SG) 67
57 Nauru (NR) 67
58 Andorra (AD) 66
59 Netherlands (NL) 66
60 Romania (RO) 66
61 Jersey (JE) 65
62 Philippines (PH) 65
63 Trinidad and Tobago (TT) 65
64 San Marino (SM) 64
65 Russia (RU) 64
66 Isle of Man (IM) 64
67 Israel (IL) 63
68 Montenegro (ME) 63
69 Ghana (GH) 62
70 Chile (CL) 62
71 Indonesia (ID) 61
72 Cyprus (CY) 61
73 Uruguay (UY) 61
74 Macedonia (MK) 61
75 Malta (MT) 61
76 Japan (JP) 60
77 China (CN) 60
78 Iceland (IS) 60
79 USA (US) 60
80 Croatia (HR) 59
81 Germany (DE) 59
82 South Korea (KR) 59
83 Luxembourg (LU) 58
84 Greece (GR) 58
85 Latvia (LV) 57
86 Poland (PL) 57
87 New Zealand (NZ) 56
88 South Africa (ZA) 56
89 Austria (AT) 56
90 Slovakia (SK) 55
91 Canada (CA) 55
92 Hungary (HU) 55
93 Portugal (Madeira) (PT) 55
94 Mexico (MX) 54
95 Bulgaria (BG) 54
96 Czech Republic (CZ) 53
97 Finland (FI) 53
98 Denmark (DK) 52
99 India (IN) 52
100 France (FR) 52
101 Norway (NO) 52
102 Australia (AU) 51
103 Estonia (EE) 51
104 Ireland (IE) 51
105 Italy (IT) 49
106 Brazil (BR) 49
107 Spain (ES) 48
108 Lithuania (LT) 47
109 Sweden (SE) 45
110 Belgium (BE) 44
111 United Kingdom (GB) 42
112 Slovenia (SI) 42