The Miami Herald
September 6, 2001

Caribbean prime minister warns richer nations


 Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Lester Bird said Thursday that an effort by industrialized nations to dictate the tax policies of small offshore banking centers could
 ``further widen the gap between rich and poor countries.''

 The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- whose members are the world's richest nations -- has issued a black list of 35 jurisdictions, including 17
 in the Caribbean Basin, that it says are unfair tax havens whose no-tax or low-tax systems are invitations to tax evasion and avoidance.

 While hailing the benefits of globalization, Bird said it also has led to bullying of small nations by large states. ``Nowhere have we witnessed more the arrogance of some
 states to dictate to the world than in the recent schemes of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,'' said Bird, speaking at The Miami Herald's
 Americas Conference.

 Initially, the OECD wanted blacklisted jurisdictions to sign commitments to reform their tax systems by July 31, but, Bird said, ``solid resistance -- and a new U.S.
 government -- caused the OECD to revise the autocratic approach.''

 Now, he said, the OECD had agreed to withhold its threat of sanctions until Nov. 30.

 Although the Clinton administration was solidly behind the OECD's ``Harmful Tax Competition Initiative,'' the Bush administration has had misgivings and U.S. Treasury
 Secretary Paul O'Neill has said the United States doesn't want to dictate the tax policies of other nations.

 While Bird and other Caribbean leaders vehemently disagree with the OECD's tax initiative, most are more supportive of the efforts of another OECD body, the Financial
 Action Task Force, to assure cooperation in the fight against money laundering.

 Last June, five Caribbean jurisdictions were blacklisted for lackluster efforts in the fight against money laundering, but Bird pointed out that this summer the Bahamas and
 the Cayman Islands were removed.

 ``It is our expectation that the others will be off the list by September,'' said the prime minister.

 In today's world, Bird said, the reality is that the United States is only interested in the Caribbean because of money laundering and drug trafficking and the flow of
 Caribbean immigrants into U.S. cities.

 ``There is little interest in addressing our development problems and needs,'' he said.

 That's why, he said, it's so important for countries like Antigua and Barbuda to develop its financial services industry ``to free others of the burden of having to provide for

 In a brief interview after his speech, Bird commented on a Miami Herald article that detailed an offshore investment scheme centered in Antigua during the 1990s.
 Hundreds of South Floridians sent millions of dollars to a get-rich-quick program handled by The Forum, an Antiguan company.

 Instead of huge returns, many say they never saw their money again and U.S. Senate investigators now say The Forum appears to be a Ponzi scheme.

 ``This is something that never should have happened,'' said Bird. ``We were such neophytes in this, Ponzi schemes and such. But the reality is that people have been
 hurt and we'd like to do what we can to help them get their money back.''

 His country has launched a criminal investigation into the Forum, and in the past two years has imposed stiff new laws to counter money laundering and financial scams.

 ``With our current laws this wouldn't have happened,'' said Bird.

                                    © 2001 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.