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What $120 Billion Worth Of Tax Evasion Looks Like

Look who’s avoiding the tax man!

What $120 Billion Worth Of Tax Evasion Looks Like

Last weekend, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released a treasure trove of some 30,000 accounts helds at HSBC’s Swiss branches between 2005 and 2007. Totaling assets of almost $120 billion, the accounts belonged to politicians and arms dealers, royalty and dictators, designers and athletes: powerful men and women in nearly every part of the world, all of whom were using HSBC’s Swiss branch to evade taxes.

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To help visualize the sheer scope of the HSBC Swiss leaks, data visualization expert Martin Grandjean mapped the amount of money citizens around the world were harboring in Switzerland to their native country. The bigger a country’s square, the more billions its citizens were socking away in Switzerland to avoid the taxman (click the image below for a larger view).


As Grandjean explains on his blog, he made a concerted decision not to visualize the data by using strict geography as a baseline. “Too many maps published in the media these days are made unreadable by regrettable graphic choices,” he says, which include maps with overlapping points, confusing coloration, disappearing islands, and more. Grandjean’s visualization still groups countries into their corresponding regions and continents, but consolidates their actual border and boundaries into data cubes to convey the truly important information: how much money has been hidden.

Le Monde, Swissleaks.net, and La Nacion maps

Grandjean also put together an alternate version of his map, visualizing the same information but specifically highlighting in red the countries that are suspected of being tax havens in Congress’s 2007 “Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act.” These countries include a number of Caribbean island nations, as well as Jersey, Guernsey, Liechtenstein, and of course the grandaddy of them all, Switzerland.

What’s the takeaway here? Certain countries are overrepresented when it comes to tax evasion, particularly Caribbean and Middle Eastern nations, while other areas are statistically underrepresented, like Asia. Which isn’t to say that citizens from these countries aren’t evading their taxes, but if they are, they’re not doing it with HSBC.

Check out Martin Grandjean’s full post on the HSBC Swiss leaks here.

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