How tax evasion stole trillions from public services

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A loss of trillions of dollars in public money came to light this spring through the biggest leak of insider information in history—a leak known as the Panama Papers.

Investigative journalist Martha Hamilton (pictured below) reviewed for delegates at the AFT Public Employees Jim McGarvey Breakfast how prominent figures in dozens of countries hired a company in Panama to manage secret bank accounts throughout the world, including U.S. banks in Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming.

Martha Hamilton

"The privileged class will hide their money," Hamilton warned—money that should be going to build and maintain schools and bridges, and to fund vital services.

The first wave of revelations by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists brought an enormous outcry in Iceland, where leaders were forced to resign. China simply banned reporting on the Panama Papers. Cronies of Vladimir Putin are implicated, as are public officials in Iran. And "the impact will continue because we're still going through the files," said Hamilton, whose parents were both staunch unionists

Why are these crimes matters of social justice? Because the money did not belong to the people who hid it, Hamilton said. It belongs to all of us. The enormous levels of crime—including tax evasion, financial swindles, drug and arms trafficking, even pedophilia—are estimated to cost between $7 trillion and $21 trillion, "money that could have been put to better use than yachts."

People tend to think of financial fraud as a victimless crime. "But it's not," Hamilton said. "It's money taken away from public services. That's why it's important to pull back the veil on tax evasion." She urged AFT activists to help spread awareness of the Panama Papers and increase pressure on our elected officials to close tax loopholes.

[Annette Licitra/photo by Michael Campbell]