Economists ask G20 to register assets to target oligarchy

Economists ask G20 to register assets to target oligarchy

Several economists, including French Thomas Piketty and American Joseph Stiglitz, have urged the G-20 to create a global asset registry to better target the hidden wealth of Russian oligarchs.

“The issue of the Russian oligarchy speaks for itself” in hiding fortunes within opaque structures, the economists say in a letter published Tuesday in Britain’s Guardian newspaper to G20 leaders.

Russian oligarchs own “at least a trillion dollars in wealth abroad,” according to estimates in the letter, signed by French Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman, as well as American Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, all members of the independent commission. Tax Reform for International Corporations, a think tank. These fortunes are often hidden “in offshore companies whose true owners are difficult to identify,” they said, adding, “This wall of obscurity is exactly what countries’ efforts to punish them are now facing.”

Western sanctions have targeted several large Russian fortunes after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including Chelsea Football Club president Roman Abramovich and Igor Sechin, owner of one of the world’s largest oil companies, Rosneft.

Going forward, the commission set up by the economists calls for the creation of a global asset registry, “connecting all kinds of assets, businesses, and other legal structures not to their legal owner, who is often just a front, but to the beneficiary, the person who actually owns them.”

The letter calls for the creation of a network connecting all existing national commodity registries, to make international sanctions and the fight against tax evasion more effective worldwide. Records will range from bank accounts to real estate assets and cryptocurrencies, as well as artwork.

Following the example of the measure proposed in December by the Global Inequality Laboratory, which reports to the Paris School of Economics, the signatories suggest that countries collect this information at the national level and then gradually expand cooperation to the regional and global levels.

“There is still much to be done to fix the failing international financial system that currently favors tax evaders,” they wrote, acknowledging some of the progress made in recent years.

The publication of the letter comes ahead of the G20 finance summit, scheduled for Wednesday, which will bring together the world’s richest countries.

Russia launched a military attack on Ukraine on February 24 that killed nearly 2,000 civilians, according to United Nations data, which warns that the real number is likely to be much higher.

The war caused more than 11 million people to flee, more than five million of them to neighboring countries.

The international community in general condemned the Russian invasion, and responded by sending weapons to Ukraine and strengthening economic and political sanctions against Moscow.