Jersey (Off) Shore
The Situation on the Trillion Dollar Island (Podcast Interview with Stuart Syvret)
THERE’S A PLACE in the English-speaking world where a small group of wealthy and influential elites, working at the behest of an absentee monarch, hold absolute sway over the legislature, the judiciary, the media, and law enforcement—and where absolute power, to paraphrase Lord Acton, has led to absolute corruption. That place is the Bailiwick of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France. That group of elites gives succor to some of the worst criminals on the planet, who park their ill-gained loot on the island. And that absentee monarch is Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
A native Jerseyman, Stuart Syvret comes from a family that has called the island home since before the Battle of Hastings. He apprenticed to a cabinetmaker, but his concern for the wellbeing of the poor and middle-class residents of the island inspired him to change tack and run for office. As one of the few voices of the opposition in a legislature monopolized by the ruling class, and an efficient administrator to boot, Syvret quickly became one of the most popular politicians in Jersey.
By 2007, he had risen in the legislative ranks to senator. He was also cabinet minister, overseeing Health and Social Services. As such, Syvret was responsible for Jersey’s equivalent of Child Protective Services. It was in that post, while filling those responsibilities, that he became aware of a rampant child sex scandal involving the island’s orphanages. He spoke out about the horrific abuses he’d uncovered—and was promptly silenced by the Senate. Rather than confront a problem as ugly as it was insidious, Jersey’s ruling elites bent over backwards to cover up the scandal, going so far as to have Syvret arrested, three times, on cooked-up charges. Unlike political prisoners anywhere else in the Western world, Syvret was denied legal representation. Even Alexei Navalny has a defense attorney.
His travails, and the child sex abuse scandal, were covered in a recent BBC Storyville documentary:
Dark Secrets of a Trillion Dollar Island: Garenne tells the extraordinary story of the child abuse scandal that erupted on the idyllic island of Jersey in 2007. For a long time, the victims’ voices had remained unheard, but when widespread allegations of sexual abuse resurfaced in the late 2000s, Jersey’s then health minister Stuart Syvret spoke out about the scale of this historic child abuse and the damage done to the victims.
Syvret’s words sparked a moment of reckoning for the small community, whose leaders were determined to protect the island’s reputation, home to a trillion dollars in offshore investment. This discreet offshore tax haven found itself in the middle of a major police investigation as the world’s media descended on the island, creating a media circus. In the midst of all this, the community became divided, with one group fearful that the scandal would drive investors away, and another demanding justice for the victims.
(One of the producers and principal researchers of that documentary, the American investigative journalist Leah McGrath Goodman, will be a guest on an upcoming episode of the PREVAIL podcast).
In short, the elites of Jersey will do anything, up to and including the active cover-up of a massive child sex abuse scandal, to preserve the island’s secrecy. Half the size of Nantucket or Catalina, Jersey plays an enormous role in the global financial system. That “Trillion Dollar Island” title is not hyperbole. This is the world’s premier tax haven. Big corporations like Apple park money there, to avoid taxation. Insanely rich people park money there, to evade taxation. And vast sums from the criminal underworld are washed there. It has, as Syvret tells me in the interview, achieved what organized crime aspires above all to achieve: invisibility.
To wit: Jersey’s most famous resident is probably the Russian gajillionaire Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea Premier League football team, who was denied residency in Switzerland—Switzerland! A country whose banks happily did business with Nazis!—because of suspicions of “money laundering and presumed contact with criminal organizations.” In 2018, Abramovich could not get his U.K. visa renewed, and thus could not watch his team play, but was allowed to reside in Jersey under a 21E scheme for “High Value Residents”—because, basically, he has so much fucking money. I should make clear that while he has appeared on a U.S. “name and shame” list of Russian oligarchs, and while Alexei Navalny has urged that he be placed on the U.K. sanctions list, Abramovich appears to be as clean as a multi-billionaire Russian oligarch can be. As his Swiss lawyer said: “Any suggestion that Mr. Abramovich has been involved in money laundering or has contacts with criminal organizations is entirely false. Mr. Abramovich has never been charged with participating in money laundering and does not have a criminal record.” Even so, it’s telling that this lovely little island is where Abramovich has decided to set up shop.
There is one further complication: Blended in with outsized corporate earnings, the filthy lucre of IRS-averse billionaires, and dirty rubles sloshing in from Russia, is the wealth of the royal family. The Queen’s personal bank, Coutts, has an active branch in Jersey. So does the dirtiest bank in the world, Deutsche Bank. It’s quite the mix.
There are two fundamental problems with tax havens like Jersey. First: when wealth this vast is parked offshore, it is exempt from the tax basis. Thus the obscenely rich, and big corporations even richer, merrily avoid contributing their fair share. What they don’t pay is made up by everyone else—by you and me. The other problem is that a lot of the money in the system derives from the criminal underworld. The surest way to defeat the world’s organized crime syndicates is to deny them access to the global banking system. Absent money laundering, mafias, drug cartels, and the like only have piles of cash—which, as Marty Bird explains in Ozark, is “a lifetime supply of groceries and gas. That’s it.”
The political fight in the 21st century, as Syvret articulates wonderfully in the interview, is not liberal versus conservative, or workers versus owners, but rather “the rule of law versus the mob, civil society versus corruption.” Jersey has become, as he put it, “not a tax evasion jurisdiction, but a law evasion jurisdiction.”
Description: The Bailiwick of Jersey, the British Crown Dependency in the Channel Islands, has long been a tax haven for corporations, criminals, royals, and rich people who don’t like to pay their fair share. It’s also one of the most corrupt places in the Western world. Greg Olear talks with Stuart Syvret—once a popular senator on the island, now a political dissident—about the Bailiff, the Queen, the Crown, the United Kingdom, the Mafia, and what he terms “the Jersey Situation.”
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Photo credit: Jersey currency by GO. Stuart Syvret in 2007, still picture from Storyville documentary.